Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Talking Out of School

As you can (no doubt) tell from the scarcity of my entries to this blog, grad school classes have resumed.

Over the last several years, you have probably heard me complain about how hard it can be for these online classes to get sorted out. The changes to Bb never seem to have been made in time and there's usually a lot of bad links and last minute alterations to be made by the professor and teaching assistant.

Well, this semester has been no exception. It might be one of the worst for lack of preparation. The course was designed with an earlier edition of the text in mind so the reading assignments don't match up with the actual units. The list of required films has yet to be settled on.The manner in which the discussions will be graded was changed over the weekend. And we're three weeks IN!

There are two writing assignments every week, which I'm rather used to. But this is one of those classes where the prompts are things like "In your opinion, what was the most important factor....?" And the materials being used are very scant lecture notes and one of the worst textbooks that I've ever encountered. So, all I can really say in an essay is what the authors of the textbook considered to be the most important factor in this or that because, really, I've not been directed to any primary sources.

The assigned textbook is crap. The authors of the book make very sweeping statements about motives and conditions that they can't possibly know with any degree of precision. Citations are not as thick on the ground as they ought to be. Theories on cultural development are flatly presented as facts - without any supporting evidence.

Did I mention this was a college textbook?

To make matters worse, the course is on Western Civilization (a topic I fancy I know a little something about) and the teaching assistant who is facilitating (and grading) the discussion portion has some very hard and fast notions about just what Western Civilization is/is not. I rather suspect that the discussions will be graded accordingly. The TA also seems hell-bent on arguing with a student until the student finally gives up and concedes. It's possible to side-step this behavior in a colleague but a little more difficult when the colleague is doing the grading!