Content Deflation III – Does Wash. U. Physics Prof. Adopt It With Zeal? And Does the University Boast About It? Read This

This is from my story ATaleOutofSchool  but it is self-contained.  I think it is helpful in understanding how much “content deflation” has entered the academy as a marketing tool that caters to student “wants”, while leaving students on their own to acquire their “needs”.  Of course, it is even worse that just leaving them on their own.  When a professor says, “Well, that’s it.  You did great.” the students are scammed.  Anyway, here is the excerpt.

“…let me introduce a professor that the University touts in the spring 2012 edition of their School of Arts and Sciences Magazine

(I have changed his name and the names of all of the individuals in this story except for mine.)

He is Alan Stein.  Alan teaches a physics course that the university describes as   “An advanced introduction to central concepts in physics…” If you want to major in physics or engineering, you can take this course to fulfill your basic physics requirement. The magazine contains an article describing “…How Arts and Sciences faculty encourage new science students to stay the course…”  They write that Professor Stein,

“…brought a new way of teaching to campus…. To create a deeper level of understanding, not an easier course. …Stein scrapped the traditional lecture format… students are required to actively prepare for class by completing readings and working homework problems… In a typical class, they hear one or more 10-minute lectures … talk about two-minute problems in groups… go home and rework the original set of homework problems. The multiple passes over the material, in different and novel ways, create learning that sticks.

Students… were clamoring to get in…”

Up to this point, it may sound like the university is touting how hard they are working to educate their students.  But are they?  Or is the statement, “…Students immediately… were clamoring to get in…” a giveaway that they are doing what the famous sociologist David Riesman warned of when he wrote in 1980,

“…advantage can still be taken of [students] by unscrupulous instructors and institutions…Like any other interest group, the student estate often does not grasp its own interests…”

Let’s look more carefully at Professor Stein’s class that “…students…were clamoring to get in…” What grade do students historically say that they expect to make in the course? About ninety percent expect some kind of A.  Here are some telling quotes I found about his course:

“His tests are extremely easy, and are untimed.”

“His 197 exams have unlimited time and are so easy! The daily homework assignments are short and help keep you on track”

“if you ask him questions during exams, he’ll answer them for you in full detail. really easy to do well in this class”

“he wrote the exams and they were pretty easy! I wish there were more profs like him. A+”

But then there was this,

“It was touted as the best at WU, but … I feel like I did not learn much during the semester. I am a Physics major and am worried about the voids in my background. Please give more fundamentals”,

From my experience, this course is not just grade inflation, it is content deflation.  Much more pernicious than grade inflation, content deflation deprives students of even the opportunity to learn what they need to compete in a global marketplace…”

Added on 8/9/2014

(To read a quick summary of my personal experience with deans and a departmental chair trying to inflict students with  “content deflation” through me, see this post.)




  1. I tend not to leave a bunch of responses, however after reading
    through a few of the responses on this page Content Deflation III – Does Wash.
    U. Physics Prof. Adopt It With Zeal? And Does the University Boast About It?
    Read This. I do have a couple of questions for you if you do not mind.
    Is it just me or do a few of these responses look like they
    are left by brain dead visitors? 😛 And, if you are writing
    on additional social sites, I’d like to keep up with you. Could
    you post a list of the complete urls of your public
    pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter

  2. Other than what I post on my blog, I don’t post elsewhere. Here is my linkedin public profile link.


Speak Your Mind