Statement on Student Approach to Learning
The transition from high school to university is one of the
most important of your educational career.
The transition period can last beyond your freshman year.
At the university, and in your ensuing professional
career, you are expected to develop an approach to learning
that includes your taking primary responsibility for learning.
Faculty will guide and assist you, but you are to take charge of
the learning process.
This issue has been discussed eloquently by Steven Zucker in
Teaching at the University Level in the August 1996 issue of
the The Notices of the American Mathematical Society. To quote
Zucker: ''The fundamental problem is that most of our current high
school graduates ... graduate high school feeling that learning must
come down to them from their teachers. That may be suitable for the
goals of high school, but it is unacceptable at the university
level. That the students must learn on their own, outside the
classroom, is the main feature that distinguishes college from high
My expectation of your approach to learning mathematics in
this course can be summarized in Zucker's six premises:
- You are no longer in high school.
The great majority of you ... will
have to discard high school notions of teaching
and learning and replace them by university-level notions. This may
be difficult, but ...
Our goal is more than just getting you to reproduce what was told to
you in the classroom.
- Expect to have material covered at two to three times the
pace of high school. Above that, we aim for greater command of the
material, especially the ability to apply what you have learned to new
situations (when relevant).
- Lecture time is at a premium, so it must be used efficiently. You
cannot be ''taught'' everything in the classroom. It is
your responsibility to learn the material. Most of this
learning must take place outside the classroom. You should be
willing to put in two hours outside the classroom for each hour of
- The instructor's job is primarily to provide a framework, with
some of the particulars, to guide you in doing your
learning of the concepts and methods that comprise the material of the
course. It is not to ''program'' you with isolated facts and problem
types, nor to monitor your progress.
- You are expected to read the textbook for comprehension. It gives
the detailed account of the material of the course. It also contains
many examples of problems worked out, and these should be used to
supplement those you see in the lecture. The textbook is not a novel,
so the readings must often be slow-going and careful. However, there
is the clear advantage that you can read it at your own pace. Use
pencil and paper [and MATLAB] to work through the material
and to fill in omitted steps.
- As for when you engage the textbook, you have the
- (recommended for most students) Read for the first time the
appropriate section(s) of the book before the material is
presented in lecture. That is, come prepared for class. Then the
faster-paced college-style lecture will make more sense.
- If you haven't looked at the book beforehand, try to pick up what
you can from the lecture (absorb the general idea and/or take thorough
notes) and count on sorting it out later while studying from the book
outside of class.
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