Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘variables

A course material of 1000 pages?  Why so much material for a single course in the first place?

Posted on November 2, 2008

Assimilating a new discipline or new methods in a single course is too strong a term. 

You indeed can scarcely describe the process of comprehending a topic and assimilating it, even within a specialized discipline, without overshooting the mark.

Now that the title might have captured your attention, let me describe my teaching methods that may permit students to cover an overview of such a vast discipline as Human Factors in one semester course.

I encourage my students to learn and read as “trained engineers ” should, smartly.

They are to first locate the graphs, tables and figures in a chapter (the dependent, independent and controlled variables) , try to understand the topic by concentrating their attention on these tools of learning, and then read the preceding and following sections if they fail to comprehend the graphs, tables and figure on their own merit.

You should all know that if a picture is worth a thousand words then a graph, table or a figure might be worth ten thousands words.

I assign a graph, table or a figure to students to hand copy it, write a short presentation, and then copy it on a transparency sheet to present to class.

After the presentation of a unique graph the student will field a few questions from class and then I take over and explain and expand on the content of the transparency.  

This method of training students to learn through these learning tools and giving them an opportunity to appreciate them, as engineers should, I am able to cover most of the course material throughout the semester.

Another method is by handing out two take home exams in addition to the regular exams.  Take home exams are handed out three weeks in advance of the due dates and cover questions from all chapters that need to be read thoroughly and supplemented from other sources for substantiation. 

Students are encouraged to take very seriously these take home assignments not only because they weight heavily in points but also because a few of the exam questions will be selected from the take home assignment. 

Assignments and lab projects are other methods for revisiting the course materials and other sources.

The quizzes and regular exams are open books, open notes and whatever printouts from the internet students are willing to bring to class. 

I even encouraged students to use an efficient cheat sheets technique that might convey the message effectively based on the fact that most of the chapters are interconnected. 

The main subjects such as designing interfaces, displays and controls, occupational safety and health, environmental and organizational factors in the workplace, designing workstations, capabilities and limitations of human users, sensing and perception capacities, and physical and cognitive methods have links to many other chapters in addition to the main one. 

Thus, if a student selects a subject as the central item he would be able to link different sections of other chapters to it by writing down the page numbers of the source section.  

These cheat sheets could be excellent learning methods to answer open book exams without the need to fumble through hundreds of pages for each question.

A different technique to assimilating course materials is through questions. 

The catch is that asking questions on assignments, lab projects or take home exams have to be submitted in writing. 

The written question has to follow a certain process:

First, stating in complete sentences the subject matter;

Second explaining how the question was understood and

the last step is expressing the problems with links to the chapters they had to read in order to comprehend the subject.

I am still waiting for a single written question and it might be for the best because it eliminates a host of redundant questions that are asked out of laziness, failing to carefully read the whole question sheet or shirking from diligently doing their best to browse through the course materials.

Compensation: An Experimental mind


I recall my advisor telling me once in frustration “At your age I was professor and had raised a family”.  He had two grown up sons and a daughter who just got married.  I didn’t need this reminder to comprehend my desperate situation: I am just plainly stubborn with no imaginations on earning money.  These long years in a PhD program in the specialty of Human Factors, at the age 35 to 41, should be considered a waste of time for any career-minded student but they were valuable for my mind. My exposure to the methods and vocabulary of five other different fields of study in psychology, business, marketing, economics, and education permit me to think that I acquired an experimental mind, a mind that not many could claim to explicitly have.  I was exposed to various experimental designs, not necessarily cause and effects designs, and inevitably to different statistical results and interpretations.  I witnessed graduates focusing on the technicality of terms and so many “point statistics” that basically means nothing, and a fortiori meant nothing in the minds of the graduates but their experimental minds were lacking in comprehension.  The end result is millions of graduates publishing papers not valid scientifically and unable to interpret results.   

When someone asks “how” (the mechanical process or procedure) it is tacitly understood that he comprehend the why and what of the subject matter or the system; that he knows all the factors and variables that may affect the outcome of a system, including the human element within the system.  Maybe a practicing or a professional knows his particular system, (he should though implicitly most of the times, as engineers learn), but the fundamental question remains “has he acquired the generalized method and rationality to investigating systems outside his discipline?” 

I know what I am talking about but the difficulty is to express and disseminate the problem.  I have taught engineers who had no understanding for discriminating among variables such as dependent, independent, or controlling variables; you think that they implicitly know how to differentiate among the variables; wrong, they don’t. Even after three sessions coupled with examples they were still in the dark and still wondering what is all the fuss about. You think that they can interpret graphs, extract wealth of information and comprehend pages of written materials from one meaningful graph, they generally cannot.  I can testify that 30% of my engineer classes could not read; another 30% could not understand what they read.  It was a pleasure to educate a couple of good minds.  I have written several articles on that subject in my category “Professional articles” for further detailed clarification.

Worst, undergraduates are almost never exposed to research papers.  Most Master’s graduates barely comprehend or interpret correctly research papers.  Graduates join the “work force” of the rational minds practically illiterate; they cannot resume any continuation learning programs for a simple reason: they are illiterate in reading and comprehending research papers.


My contention is this.  If you acquired an experimental mind then you should be eligible to comprehend any field of study by reading the research papers in the field.  The major contraption devised my professions to discriminate among one another is a flimsy mask targeted in changing the technical terms and vocabulary; a secret ritual inherited from ancient times to creating castes of literates. Other than that, the experimental methodology is fundamentally the same.  When you acquire an experimental mind then all disciplines are one course away; you need to learn the slang, a new language that sound familiar, but with terms that have different meanings and connotations.  The ultimate goal of teaching is for every university graduating mind to be trained to comprehend research papers of other disciplines.

May I refer the reader to my current article “Rationality Fraud: Can our leading minds pass Socrates’ dialogue test?”




June 2021

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