I had an interesting experience concerning students feed-backs at Olin college that I would like to recount here. A team of students in the course “Quantitative Engineering Analysis”, QEA for short, was highly frustrated due to problems in their Mathematica code, so I sat with them to sort out the errors. The students repeatedly stated  “the problem with  Mathematica is that it does not say where exactly the error is, it just says that there is an error and then it stops working”.  Their claim appeared correct, as all my simple tests of parts of their code worked fine, but when we ran their code, the software refused to proceed and did not even inform as to where exactly the error was. The team had some Greek symbols as variables and one of the students remarked that a symbol looked different at two different places, so we decided to do away with Greek symbols as variables and chose plain English symbols instead and bingo, the code was back on track.

However their lament about the software not pointing out the location of errors started a different thought process for me. A week or two before the incident, the team leader Paul, had asked the students to give their feedback on how the course was progressing but only a few students actually gave their feedback, then Paul made an impassioned appeal to students to be more interactive so that the teaching team can make any required course correction effectively. This worked, student started voicing their concerns in constructive manner and overall the lab hours became more friendly and happier.

The Mathematica incident gave me an opportunity to re-emphasize Paul’s point. I communicated with one of the students, writing, look the way it is very frustrating to work with a software which keeps throwing errors without pointing out the source of errors, or suggestions on how those errors can be corrected, similarly  It is very frustrating to the teaching team leader if you keep lamenting that the course is not working out well for you, without pointing out what exactly is the trouble and giving suggestions on how possibly the teaching team may handle the issue.

I am reminded of this issue, as the course feedback are in progress at Ahmedabad university and I recounted the incident to my Linear Algebra class today to encourage them to give precise and constructive feedback. I believe the argument is valid for all kinds of feedback processes.


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PhD in Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos. Teaching Physics and Mathematics to engineers for more than 11 years. I have a huge interest in teaching and learning and an incurably optimistic attitude to the limit of sounding insane. Unless specified I always interpret words as per average public perception where I take the average over my known universe, the context unfortunately is only limited to my universe, but I hope neuroscience will change it sooner or later.

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