The content featured in introductory courses should be more regularly updated to mirror changes in the direction and focus of academic research in that field. For example, the financial crisis triggered a debate on how introductory economics should be taught. Recent suggestions from diverse practitioners and teachers of economics in The New York Times had only one concern in common: Current introductory economics focuses too much on conventional and simplified theories unrepresentative of the real world. Criticisms of this sort can be applied to most social science and humanities disciplines, where new theories and approaches are constantly being developed in order to adapt to the changing world. There is a dangerous tendency for course instructors to rely on meticulously structured notes handed down from previous years. Instructors are all the more comfortable presenting material with which they have more experience with. But for those students interested in the subject, the break from both reality and cutting edge research may present sources of frustration and boredom.
Introductory courses are often hardest to teach because of the breadth of the content and the diversity of the student population. But the existence of popular and well-regarded introductory classes is evidence that lectures have the potential to draw interest and passion. Current well-structured precepts in beginner computer science classes, for example, present ample time for students to train and hone their skills. Courses should take advantage of the lecture-precept duality to teach solid skills in one type of setting and advance students’ interests in the other. Alternatively, breaking down the archetypical introductory course into multiple ones based on difficulty and emphasis on certain subtopics will result in smaller and more directed class settings.
It is easy for introductory classes to fall into a state of stagnancy where instructors are content with meager reviews from students and with the assumption that fundamental concepts are by nature less interesting. But students at this University stand to benefit from engaging and contemporary introductory classes. There is ample room for many departments to overhaul their introductory coursework in the spirit of student evaluation and in the direction of current academic research.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/04/06/30516/