Linear Algebra

So, I`ve officially started teaching.

Those who know what is meant by the term “service course” can skip this paragraph, otherwise, read on. Mathematics is a ubiquitous subject. Consequently, mathematicians often find themselves lecturing to audiences consisting of people from other disciplines who need to know some mathematics for their own work: Scientists (both social and…well… “non-social”) need some statistics to analyse data, economists need calculus and probability theory for their models, engineers need to prove they can think logically etc etc etc. Often the task of providing such a course is delegated to the mathematics department. Such courses are known as service courses (lord only knows why).

The course I´m teaching is a basic linear algebra course that is attended by a VERY large number of students. So large in fact that it has to spread across several dozen lecturers, of which I am now one. This unfortunate state of affairs of course entails some heavy-duty standardisation and of course everything is pitched to the level of the lowest common denominator. We are thus forced to stick very closely to the sections of a certain book – so closely we literally have a schedule dictating what we must lecture on what date, and deviating from this standard order would be deeply unfair. It doesn´t help that, to quote one of my colleagues, “the book is crap” (I suspect this reflects the book probably being chosen so that even the weaker students can keep up).

Worse, my slightly oddly timed arrival ensures that I have to be inserted into this system half way through – I was allocated a vagary of students in January and another lecturer was assigned my class to “keep them warm” in my absence. Whilst sticking to the book is horribly constricting it has at least made this transition near effortless.

How did the first lecture go? Well, I thought I cocked it up royally. One example I worked out before hand used column operations. The students were all used to row operations. As you can imagine the entire class was as confused as hell by it and the example had to be scrapped. Thankfully there were plenty of other examples that went well and there are several other examples in the book, so this probably seems worse to me that it actually was. Overall, in fact, the class seemed alarming alert, picking up several minor mistakes and seemingly picking up on several instances of omitted “supporting waffle” that they wanted to help clarify matters. Indeed afterwards a small platoon of about a dozen of them waded in and demanded that I help them with the earlier parts of the course (they seemed to much prefer me to the person who had been assigned to cover this class, until my arrival and if what they claim is true this is born out by their marks).

So a constrictive boringley basic course in linear algebra is my first taste of lecturing. Let´s just hope the kiddies can survive me lecturing them for the next few months.


2 Responses to “Linear Algebra”

  1. Bob Heffernan Says:

    This US-style course coordination is awful, isn’t it? I find having to stick to the book to be terrible annoying & I seem to always fall well behind on the schedule.

    I also had the experience of arriving mid-term and having to take over a class. Some of my students had deliberately chosen to be with the lecture who was “keeping them warm” and had little love for me when they learned I was taking over.

    Moreover, teaching multi-variable calculus to engineers is mind-numbingly boring (for all involved, I think). I’m also teaching calculus-for-dummies to some business students which is at least a pedagogical challenge.

    Still, you’ll settle into the comfortable habit of delivering the lectures on autopilot after a while. 🙂


  2. Those who can do. Those who can’t… « From Calculus to Colombia Says:

    […] I’ve moaned before about my teaching load here (more than once in fact), but it’s not all […]

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