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 school.''

My expectation of your approach to learning mathematics in this course can be summarized in Zucker's six premises:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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 class.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. As for when you engage the textbook, you have the following dichotomy:

    Back to main page