Monday, May 18, 2009

Creative Writing

I've been invited, once again, to talk at the advisor training session. Every year the math department sends someone to say, "Please do not tell students who can't do algebra that they should try to take calculus."

This year I'm going to add something new in addition to my slides showing that students with too-low placement scores fail math, students fail math way more than they fail English, and the comparison of minutes of instruction in a high school math class and a college math class covering (nominally) the same material. I'm going to make up cute little case studies. Stu has a 5 on AP Calculus AB and wants to be a music major. What math classes should you suggest? Stu scored worse than guessing on our math placement test and wants to be a physics major, what do you advise? Stu wants to major in either Early Childhood Education or Electrical and Computer Engineering (Stu heard that ECE was a good major); can you recommend a math class?

We'll see if this gets any better advice coming out of advising. The trouble with advising is that it suffers from what I suppose is a form of selection bias. If a student gets bad advice, they'll go to a different advisor next time. If a student likes what the advisor says, then the student goes back to the same advisor. This leads to many advisors hearing positive things from just about all of their repeat customers, leading them to believe that they give good advice nearly all the time.