Friday, April 11, 2014

group dynamics

I swear next semester I am *assigning* lab partners in my intro lab class. I'm done with this.

In my lab class, I currently have 14 students. Eleven of those are dilgent, hard working people. They mostly work in pairs and there is one group of three. They work together, if one person doesn't understand and someone else does, that person explains to them. They pay attention to my pre-lab lecture and know what to do. They get done in good time, hand in their papers, and then they get to scram.

And I'd get to scram early, too, if it weren't for my one last group. Two women and a man. One of the women has an enormous sense of entitlement. She also bitches about three times per lab period about how this week's exercise is "stupid." It matters not what the exercise it, it's just "stupid."

Um, you're majoring in this, right? So this is what you plan on doing with your life? If you don't like the super-basic labs where stuff is far, far less hard or tedious than it can be, well, I recommend switching majors.

I actually remember some of the labs from my basic bio class (which was high school AP bio). One big one I remember is the onion root tip. Most basic classes do some form of this: you either make and stain yourself (as we did) a slide of an onion's growing root tip, or use a prepared slide. You find 100 cells in the zone of active cell division (the meristem). You identify them to stage of mitosis. Then, based on the number of cells in each stage and how long the cell cycle generally takes, you can compute how long each stage takes. I remember doing that and thinking, "Whoa, cool. I didn't think about doing it that way but it works."

But to a lot of today's students (or maybe just to a lot of students who aren't really into science and who don't have a high tolerance for repetitive tasks like I do), counting 100 cells - well, you might as well put an orange jumpsuit on them, give them a sledgehammer, and tell them to go out in the hot sun and break rocks for 12 hours. Seriously, people act as if counting and identifying 100 cells is just short of torture.

And I'm like, wait until you get to grad school, 100 cells will look like a coffee break.

Of course, many of them are looking at med/dental/PA/whatever school, but still: I'm sure there are incredibly tedious things there.

And I do understand that probably counting onion cells seems irrelevant to someone who wants to be a surgeon or a physical therapist - but there's value (I tend to think) in anything you learn, and the idea of the technique (you have a process you can only see "stopped" stages of, now you need to estimate how long each stage takes) could be applied to other things.

But I get really tired of that one group - they tend to ignore the pre-lab (if they talk, I stop and shut them up, or I look at them and go "Do you have a question?" which I find usually shuts up in-class talkers. I've given up on the smartphones - I figure, if they want to dink around on their smartphones while everyone else pays attention, that''s  their loss. Except it's kind of mine, too, because they are always hounding me with simple questions I answered in the pre-lab lecture, and also, it takes them longer to finish and leave, so I am less likely to be done with lab early.)

But I see this increasingly much in college students: they think they know everything already, they think they've figured out what's important and what isn't, and they deem any class that is not narrowly focused on the one thing they are going to do with their lives as irrelevant and therefore to be ignored or complained about. The thing is - lots of people change their focus. I originally, as an undergrad, wanted to be a geneticist, but that gradually shifted to becoming a botanist over time, for various reasons (a big one: I didn't want to spend my research life trapped in a lab). Or you fail at something important. Or you don't get in to med school. Or you realize at 20 that becoming a doctor, under the new way medicine is done, is no longer appealing to you.

I tend to think that very little if anything you learn is ever a waste of time. I wish my students also felt that way.

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