Friday, 12 March 2010

Analytical Thinking

Yesterday I had a brief conversation with some of my first year students, who were asking me about the second year module choices. On the language side there are two choices: DAVE ("Development and Variation of English") and FREDA ("Frameworks of English Discourse Analysis"). I teach FREDA. This year we had about 90 students in DAVE, and 44 in FREDA.

The first years then said they had heard DAVE was easier. Where from, I asked. Some second year students they answered. It took me a while to work out at least two fatal flaws with this, and one unintended positive side-effect.

  1. How on Earth is a second year student able to compare those two modules? I can't, and I'm teaching one. The only way to compare them is to attend both modules, and this is not possible, as they are mutually exclusive choices. It's a bit like claiming that this life on Earth is better or worse than the afterlife. Either you only know one of them, or you're dead.

  2. The next thought is a bit scarier: how can you believe/trust someone who claims something you know to be invalid/impossible? I don't want to push the religious analogies too far at this point, but I guess second year students must have quite a reputation amongst the first years when they can tell them this kind of stuff and get away with it. The first thing you learn at university, however, should be to never trust anybody just because they're older/have more authority/have published a book.

  3. "Easier". How do you apply this term to a module? Is it easier to get good marks? Is the subject material easier to understand? I don't know, but I would probably call a module easier if it didn't involve much work and you'd still get a good mark. But is that what you want from a module at uni? And I doubt that DAVE involves less work than FREDA, and I would also guess that the distribution of marks will not be so different either.

And now the positive side-effect: if students think DAVE is easier because it involves less work, then students who don't like the idea of work will obviously choose DAVE. Therefore, students who choose FREDA should be eager, keen, and willing to work hard for their money (that is the money they paid to come here). This is mostly the case, but I suspect there are also some other students in FREDA. However, those at least will know not to trust the second years and are able to think for themselves. Not all bad, then!

PS: The imbalance of student numbers (which I suspect is mostly due to such rumours and ignorance of what the module is about) is one of the reasons for producing this film about FREDA.

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