APMTH 207 (Spring 2016)
This course is, without equal, the worst course I have ever taken. As the first negative course review I have ever written, I want to underscore how atrocious this experience has been. I'm not alone here either; look at the abysmal Q scores of previous iterations of this class to get a hint of the frustration. But the biggest issue, was the unprofessional treatment that some students received. This is not a story of a course experiencing growing pains; this is a course which has suffered due to the recalcitrance of its instructors to remedy fundamental teaching and operational issues, who instead insist on blaming the students' supposed inabilities.
Verena's teaching ability is, quite simply, unacceptable. Simply taking some handwritten notes from previous years, and copying them onto the board while narrating it in some stream of conscious manner is not the hallmark of good, or even acceptable teaching. You may as well have just been given the notes since there was no value added from the lecture. Few efforts were made to actually engage with students and check their understanding. There was never any real sense of why she was doing certain things, or how everything fit together. Towards the end of the semester, the main lecture theatre had around 10 people left in attendance. I've never witnessed that level of attrition, and it certainly was not just due to student laziness.
Just a few of the "highlights" from this course:
- Assignments were often confusing and too far removed from the content being taught, all in the name of "challenging" students. Most labs needed to be devoted entirely to explaining the assignments in detail. When an assignment confused people (and even a capable TF) into making an understandable mistake, Verena's response was condescension and incredulity, noting "[w]e are talking about Shakespeare here." Didn't realise English literature was a pre-req.
- Some students' assignments were lost multiple times due to a ridiculous system where names needed to be specified precisely in the file name before being uploaded to Canvas. As far as I am aware, no other course requires this. Then it gets worse: some students were deducted marks in the first marked homework because they had not put their name in the filename, because it apparently caused extra admin time. Rather than conclude their system is ridiculous, and they should figure out a more robust solution, the remedy was to deduct marks. The irony is the instructors' constant refrain that students needed to stop complaining about the teaching and harden up since this was graduate school, when they run the course like a primary school where students are penalized for not putting their name down.
- The official site cites a strict page limit for the final project (worth 40%) which was changed to "not exactly strict" (whatever that means.) This change was communicated only on Piazza. Too bad if you didn't see it or couldn't make sense of it, because you'd be seriously penalised for not having enough detail (see the next point.)
- For the final project, TFs worked with every group closely, read the submitted material and gave marks. Verena then decided to mark down a large proportion of projects. She skimmed through and marked them down significantly (up to 40% in some cases,) often citing a lack of detail. The comments revealed she had clearly not read the Ipython notebooks (supposedly also assessed,) nor had she really understood the reports in depth; it was not really possible for one person given the marking deadlines. If you are going to overrule TFs who had more opportunity to read the project, at least give proper care to the process.
- After final project marks were released, there were obviously a number of requests for a regrade. Some were actually granted, some were denied, and (incredibly) others were told there was no regrading period at all for the final project. Suffice to say this process was completely opaque and unprofessional.
[Evaluate the course overall.: