Friday, March 4, 2011

Favorite Classes vs. Favorite Teachers

Over at Engineer Blogs , there's a lovely discussion on people's favorite classes. For me, this is a slightly tricky question, even if I only restrict it to college courses. My favorite course was not from my favorite teacher.

My favorite class was a "humanities" course (taught be a civil engineering prof, hence the quotes). This was one of the university general requirement courses, and was meant to be a critical writing course on a particular subject. My section discussed failure. Over the course of the semester, we were to develop a class definition of failure, while analyzing a number of engineering and societal failures. There were two books for the class: Why Things Break, by Levy and Salvadori, and Collapse, by Jared Diamond. Part of what made the class my favorite was relating engineering concepts to things one wouldn't typically consider engineering problems, like the collapse of society on Easter Island.

My favorite teacher, on the other hand, taught my Intro to Materials and my Thermodynamics classes. He was by no means the most dynamic lecturer I've ever had, but his lecture style made it very easy to grasp the material for a variety of learning styles. Intro to Materials is a giant lecture, so he had to use power point just so it would be legible in the back of the room. Whenever he was going through equations, he would flip to the document camera and do the math there.

Thermo was a much smaller class, and he could do everything on the boards. The most amazing thing was they way he would write everything down while talking. He never lectured faster than you could take notes, because he was taking them on the board. He also would use one phrasing out loud, and write down a different wording. For some classes, this wouldn't be a big deal. Thermodynamics (Statistical Mechanics for physics majors), on the other hand, can be conceptually tricky, and different wordings click with different people. It's not my favorite class ever, because will very well taught, it's just not particularly fun for most people. He did, however, deliver my favorite professorial quote ever:

With enough coefficients, you can curve-fit an elephant.

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