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Thread: University courses and their tendency to jump around between literature chapters

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    Default University courses and their tendency to jump around between literature chapters

    I have studied at university for 3 years now ("Engineering Physics & Electrical Engineering") and one thing that I have always found fairly irritating is that a lot of courses have a tendency to go through the chapters in the course literature in a seemingly arbitrary order.
    Yes, the first couple courses did follow a somewhat logical chapter order (starting with the first chapters and actually proceeding with the subsequent chapters after that, possibly skipping a few chapters in a few places), but some of my later courses have felt much less consistent.
    They will frequently jump way ahead, like from chapter 6 to chapter 15 or something ridiculous like that, and then actually jump back to earlier chapters some time later, and then forward to the later chapters again.
    Some schedules seriously look like that, and this is quite an issue for me, because I don't like studying that way - it just feels unnatural.
    Yes, I can study that way, but I don't like it, and some of the literature has even mentioned from the very beginning that they were written specifically to build upon earlier chapters (like Chemistry³, for example).

    I prefer to follow a logical order without having to rely on lectures and "extra material" or whatever, so I frequently find myself completely ignoring the course schedules and just reading through the entire book instead - at least up to the latest scheduled chapter.
    Of course, this will require some extra work, but I find this very rewarding, and, at least to me, this actually makes things easier, because I get a full picture of the courses - and this also eliminates the risks that I will run into some chapter that uses a lot of terminology and ideas that were defined and developed in an earlier chapter that we were never supposed to read - I have lost count on how many times my course books have been like "...as we learned in Unread Previous Chapter...".

    Discuss.
    Last edited by Peter1986; 08-01-2016 at 01:10 PM.

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    Radical Dreamer Cid's Knight Fynn's Avatar
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    Well, having some teaching experience, I can say that it just depends on what curriculum the teacher thinks will work best. Coursebooks in general are meant to be treated more like guidelines rather than rigid rulesets that must be followed to the core. For example (since I was an English teacher, I'll be using English courses to illustrate), let's say you're doing Present Continuous as the next grammatical topic. The coursebook might later have a chapter on Past Perfect because those two tenses are similarly constructed, but you think it'd be more useful to move on to type 1 and 2 conditional sentences after that, so that you can introduce all the different uses of the tense to the students so that they can have a more comprehensive view of it before introducing a whole new tense with all its implications.

    What I'm trying to say through this is that there is really no one way to organize a curriculum. Textbooks are also written by human beings and every one teacher (textbook authors included) have different ideas on how you can effectively teach the given information. What one person considers a logical order anough to build a coursebook around doesn't have to be logical to the person conducting the course or the students. And since everyone also learns at different rates and with different aspects being important to people, it really is impossible to build one universal curriculum that will not only be easy to teach, but easy to take in as well.

    tl;dr: it's all super subjective

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fynn View Post
    Well, having some teaching experience, I can say that it just depends on what curriculum the teacher thinks will work best. Coursebooks in general are meant to be treated more like guidelines rather than rigid rulesets that must be followed to the core. For example (since I was an English teacher, I'll be using English courses to illustrate), let's say you're doing Present Continuous as the next grammatical topic. The coursebook might later have a chapter on Past Perfect because those two tenses are similarly constructed, but you think it'd be more useful to move on to type 1 and 2 conditional sentences after that, so that you can introduce all the different uses of the tense to the students so that they can have a more comprehensive view of it before introducing a whole new tense with all its implications.

    What I'm trying to say through this is that there is really no one way to organize a curriculum. Textbooks are also written by human beings and every one teacher (textbook authors included) have different ideas on how you can effectively teach the given information. What one person considers a logical order anough to build a coursebook around doesn't have to be logical to the person conducting the course or the students. And since everyone also learns at different rates and with different aspects being important to people, it really is impossible to build one universal curriculum that will not only be easy to teach, but easy to take in as well.

    tl;dr: it's all super subjective
    That's true, although sometimes I feel that some chapters would have been easier to get into if some earlier chapter was at least somewhat part of the curriculum.
    I liked how the first math and physics courses reviewed a lot of stuff from high school (which I think is highly valuable), and that was more my taste.
    This might be different for language courses, though.

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    Radical Dreamer Cid's Knight Fynn's Avatar
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    It still happens a lot in language courses, which is kinda annoying because while repetition is necessary, things can become redundant. So for more advanced courses, I've seen teachers skip over the first unit or two pretty much all the time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fynn View Post
    It still happens a lot in language courses, which is kinda annoying because while repetition is necessary, things can become redundant. So for more advanced courses, I've seen teachers skip over the first unit or two pretty much all the time.
    Yeah, some aspects would be kind of unnecessary to review - I suppose that basic subject and object forms wouldn't be that necessary to review in a language course, especially not a course on an advanced level.
    And my first university math courses certainly didn't spend any time on reviewing basic addition or anything like that, since that would be kind of like telling an experienced driver how to use a steering wheel.
    We did review a lot of the basics of graphs and calculus though (first semester was chiefly about single-variable derivatives and integrals, which a lot of somewhat technical programs at high school will cover to some degree), and that felt quite encouraging.
    I think it's called "Calculus 1" in America.
    Last edited by Peter1986; 08-01-2016 at 05:05 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter1986 View Post
    I prefer to follow a logical order
    In my experience with textbooks, as well as being a TA for a bit, and even editing the practice questions in a couple of accounting text books for the author, I can fairly confidently say that the only thing logical about most textbooks is they start at chapter one and progress in ascending order. I've run into very few that actually build on the material in an order that makes sense.

    Hell, I've even run into things like drum lesson books that don't follow a logical order as far as I'm concerned after years of teaching the instrument. I'm not going to say every teacher out there is going to use a better ordering, but there's usually at least some attempt to streamline things behind the decisions they make. Whether they succeed or fail is up for interpretation.

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    Like Fynn said, it is subjective. I did a lot of humanities and we'd go back and forth, especially in anthologies. The only time that didn't happen was course packs specifically designed by the prof.


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    Nearly everyone in the sciences learns how to solve differential equations before they learn the fundamental theorem of calculus. Nearly everyone in computer science learns to write a high level programming language before they learn about Turing Machines.

    I guess it's down to this wonderful phenomena that's pretty much exclusive to STEM fields where higher levels of complexity can often be simpler to understand. Whereas if you're writing a book on the subject, you really should start at first principles.

    And in the humanities it's fine too because you don't even have a logical progression. The best you have is a chronological progression.
    Last edited by Randy; 08-02-2016 at 03:04 AM.

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    The calculus issue is if the school you attend wants to have transcendental functions early or later. I feel that having them in calc 2 is better, because you introduce them one at a time as possible forms your integral can take after a proper u-substitution. Also in case yo wanted to know yes, calc 2 is made to be really hard to weed out people who don't have the drive to get into STEM.

    Also a lot of math books like to group things into different areas of study. So polynomials and factoring will be before graphing, but I will be teaching graphing first because I want you to get comfortable with parabolas first, and i won't do that before systems of equations which is really linear algebra.

    This is mainly done though because it's how Euclid did it. His book(s) Elements was THE math textbook for about 2000 years. For example if you are reading it and want to do only geometry, you look at books 1 - 4. Then 6. Then you skip to 11, 12 and 13 for 3 dimensional solids.

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    Quote Originally Posted by qwertysaur View Post
    The calculus issue is if the school you attend wants to have transcendental functions early or later. I feel that having them in calc 2 is better, because you introduce them one at a time as possible forms your integral can take after a proper u-substitution. Also in case yo wanted to know yes, calc 2 is made to be really hard to weed out people who don't have the drive to get into STEM.

    Also a lot of math books like to group things into different areas of study. So polynomials and factoring will be before graphing, but I will be teaching graphing first because I want you to get comfortable with parabolas first, and i won't do that before systems of equations which is really linear algebra.

    This is mainly done though because it's how Euclid did it. His book(s) Elements was THE math textbook for about 2000 years. For example if you are reading it and want to do only geometry, you look at books 1 - 4. Then 6. Then you skip to 11, 12 and 13 for 3 dimensional solids.
    While we are on the topic of math, I think that "weeding out" people simple by making a course "really hard" sounds like a kinda strange idea - math courses should build upon each other and always follow a logical order, not get really hard just for the sake of being really hard.

    Anyway, I can't say I noticed any of that during my first year, we just started with basic single-variable derivatives and integrals, then spent some time on Linear Algebra, followed by differential equations and finally Multivariable Calculus.
    I found that very pleasant, it was a perfect structure and everything felt just right.
    Multivariable Calculus was lots of fun, that was pretty much all the previous math courses combined into one and generalised to more than two dimensions.
    I even noticed a lot of Geometry in that course, since we always had to sketch geometric figures in order to be able to integrate volumes of regions properly.

    Linear Algebra actually didn't require much knowledge of calculus at all, in fact I think the only prerequisites for that course are Arithmetic and Algebra 1, possibly Algebra 2.
    On the other hand though, Multivariable Calculus required quite a lot of knowledge about matrices and vector spaces.
    Last edited by Peter1986; 08-07-2016 at 04:49 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Randy View Post
    Nearly everyone in the sciences learns how to solve differential equations before they learn the fundamental theorem of calculus. Nearly everyone in computer science learns to write a high level programming language before they learn about Turing Machines.

    I guess it's down to this wonderful phenomena that's pretty much exclusive to STEM fields where higher levels of complexity can often be simpler to understand. Whereas if you're writing a book on the subject, you really should start at first principles.
    I have to disagree.

    The difficultly is that most STEM subjects are more like a web of knowledge than a nice linear progression.

    A nice illustration exists in one of calc 2's most dreaded topics: series. Ask people why they care about series, and nobody really knows until maybe their senior year. The problem is that the topic begins with first principles: defining what a series is, going through divergence and convergence, and then something about Taylor Series at the end. But because of that "first principles" method, many people miss the entire chapter is designed around Taylor series. Loosely stated, Taylor series are the basis for nearly all forms of systematic approximation in math; however, whether or not the approximation can exist depends on whether or not the series diverges/converges. Hence why 80% of the section is spent on series tests.

    The organization would be to briefly introduce Taylor series and clearly establish the goals so that way people learn that checking for convergence/divergence is just a step taken to solve a bigger problem. Science becomes exponentially worse in this regard: in physics, there's a reason we don't start with relativity and quantum mechanics despite being first principles. Even classically, No mechanics course starts with principle of least action, despite it being arguably the most fundamental law of law (or its quantum analog, Feynmann Path Integral).

    ----

    A better statement is probably this: we should start with models that has a clear immediate use. Students can better understand, for example, why the octet rule can be useful in explaining chemical reactions such as simple combustion reactions. But then, as we begin to find issues with that model, introduce what the "next step" is in improving the model. Rinse and repeat. This method, however, has the odd benefit of saving first principles for last since only once you've encountered the most complete model you've encountered the first principles. However, this builds a web in a more logical way, where students better understand why they're learning what they're learning.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zora View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Randy View Post
    Nearly everyone in the sciences learns how to solve differential equations before they learn the fundamental theorem of calculus. Nearly everyone in computer science learns to write a high level programming language before they learn about Turing Machines.

    I guess it's down to this wonderful phenomena that's pretty much exclusive to STEM fields where higher levels of complexity can often be simpler to understand. Whereas if you're writing a book on the subject, you really should start at first principles.
    I have to disagree.

    The difficultly is that most STEM subjects are more like a web of knowledge than a nice linear progression.

    A nice illustration exists in one of calc 2's most dreaded topics: series. Ask people why they care about series, and nobody really knows until maybe their senior year. The problem is that the topic begins with first principles: defining what a series is, going through divergence and convergence, and then something about Taylor Series at the end. But because of that "first principles" method, many people miss the entire chapter is designed around Taylor series. Loosely stated, Taylor series are the basis for nearly all forms of systematic approximation in math; however, whether or not the approximation can exist depends on whether or not the series diverges/converges. Hence why 80% of the section is spent on series tests.

    The organization would be to briefly introduce Taylor series and clearly establish the goals so that way people learn that checking for convergence/divergence is just a step taken to solve a bigger problem. Science becomes exponentially worse in this regard: in physics, there's a reason we don't start with relativity and quantum mechanics despite being first principles. Even classically, No mechanics course starts with principle of least action, despite it being arguably the most fundamental law of law (or its quantum analog, Feynmann Path Integral).

    ----

    A better statement is probably this: we should start with models that has a clear immediate use. Students can better understand, for example, why the octet rule can be useful in explaining chemical reactions such as simple combustion reactions. But then, as we begin to find issues with that model, introduce what the "next step" is in improving the model. Rinse and repeat. This method, however, has the odd benefit of saving first principles for last since only once you've encountered the most complete model you've encountered the first principles. However, this builds a web in a more logical way, where students better understand why they're learning what they're learning.
    Starting with something that is based on relatively complicated first principles is no problem, as long as the things you start with are easy enough to grasp for beginners.
    For example, some of the very first topics that you encounter in physics are projectile motion and Newton's laws.
    Strictly speaking, both of these things can be generalised a lot;
    Earth's gravity can be generalised in terms of the gravitational constant, and Newton's laws behave differently under relativistic conditions.
    However, both of these things can be introduced with no problems at all in their simple approximated forms and will be realistic enough as long as any practice problems mostly take place on Earth, and they will make later generalisations a lot easier to grasp.

    Chemistry is a bit like this as well;
    in order to understand atomic structure you will have to tackle some aspects of Quantum Mechanics, which might sound extremely scary but you will only study the parts of Quantum Mechanics that are absolutely necessary in order to become more familiar with atoms and molecules, at least in an introductory course.
    Last edited by Peter1986; 08-07-2016 at 06:06 PM.

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