Monday, September 9, 2013

Hmm. Maybe NOT the best way to start a class?

I have mixed feelings about this "prank" a University of Rochester professor used to start a chemistry class. Video in the link below:

Fake Professor, Real Course

Brief summary: A professor ("Dr. H") allowed a group of students from a campus radio show to pretend to pull a prank on the first day of class. They hired an actor to pretend to be Dr. H and start the course, emphasizing difficulty of the course and describing a very restrictive cell phone and laptop policy.

This prank seems fairly harmless (the real Dr. H shows up and "debriefs" the class) but I wonder whether there are potentially long-term impacts to this prank. Specifically: we know that first impressions and the fundamental attribution error are powerful (irresistible, to some extent) and I wonder if some students in this class might develop harmful schemata about the course (and/or their success in the course) based on the prank?

One semester I asked a student to help me with a fundamental attribution error demonstration. We pretended to have a verbal fight in front of the class, then I surveyed students about their attributions. The demonstration "worked" - students attributed my behavior to the situation and hers to her inner disposition - but I never did that demo again because students told me that it "colored" their experience in the class for days.

I'm sure that the demo in this video did "enliven" the experience of the chemistry students, but I wonder about it. What do you think? Am I taking it too seriously? Would you do a demonstration like this? Since many of you reading this probably just started your teaching year, how do you "enliven" the first day of class?

posted by Rob McEntarffer


Sue Frantz said...

I did something similar in an Intro Psych course years ago. It drove home the obedience point, but I didn't feel good about it so never did it again. In a psych course, I can at least see the educational value. But a chemistry course?

Anonymous said...

Rob (and Sue)

I, too, conducted an in class experiment to demonstrate FAE similar to Rob's in which I chastised a student for a poor test score in front of the class. I had the exact same response. It was awkward for me (that is not who I am) and for the students. It made the point but at a cost too high. Won't do it again. This professor may end up saying the same thing as well.

Rob McEntarffer said...

Thanks for commenting, Sue and anonymous. Sounds like this is a common experience for many of us and it had a somewhat common "outcome." If any of us had the time/ambition, I wonder if the experience is common enough to justify an article/blog post somewhere else? Sue, does this sound like an "STP-worthy" topic?