Dinosaur Debts
By Irish McKilligan
Published on 06/14/2011
Well financial aid is a mystery I've yet to unravel and the rules seem to change every semester; this semester being no exception.

Well, I made it through another semester and finished the incomplete I took in History.  I learned that more than 80% of students who take an incomplete in a course never finish it. Puzzling. 

After I thought about this, and looking at all the financial aid rules... I began to understand, at least initially, why someone would take an incomplete and not finish.  Adding my own unreasonable level of exhaustion, completing the incomplete was a test of perseverance.  I wonder whether an "i" stays on your record forever or impacts financial aid or your GPA? 

Anyway, I'm in a summer course and trying to do my best.  I spent most of today catching up on homework because I'm too exhausted to think.  My job ended (freelance) and I spent the first week handling every doctor appointment I could and collapsed.  By the time Summer I started, I was not refreshed or feeling ready. 

I'm one of the lucky students who is subject to the peculiar rule that you have to have development or remedial math.  Oh joy (insert sarcastic smirk here).  Having attempted several class room settings for remedial math, I am now keenly aware of exactly what class room setting works for me in this subject.  Let's just say lab is not something I'm a fan of.  After 3 or 4 teachers tell you you have a lot of questions, one is not sure this is a compliment.  I did have one teacher tell me there are only two ways to learn algebra, which is that you either understand how it works or you memorize the rules.  To my shock, she tells me I'm in the former of the two, a natural mathematician.  I'm in remedial math...there's nothing natural about that, but ok... you're the teacher. 

Anyway, there's a grant that pays for your books as well as the tuition and software.  It's an accelerated course to complete all the remedial or developmental math in one summer.  Wow.  Probably a tough schedule, but I can knock out 2 courses and get the whole thing paid for... so I'm interested. 

I answered the survey and confirmed with my teacher that it was a good fit for me and began searching for more details.  All I could find was a very basic course description which touted 2 hours of instruction plus an hour of tutoring and an hour of study skills.  Wow.  How could you not learn? 

I arrived at class the first night very excited.  We had taken assessments of math and study habits with 90 students selected for the program.  There we were, huddled in a computer lab.  Oh crap, a lab.  A lab with 50 students.  There are two teachers barely able to explain what we the group are doing because they are busy darting from person to person trying to answer individual questions.  Oh heavens to mergatroid, I'd love to tell you it's first day disorganization....but you know it's the nightmare I think it is. 

They start us on another assessment, where I learn they are testing us on the course we have not yet begun.  I'm so frustrated after 30 minutes I'm shaking... and pissed... and getting more pissed off by the moment.  I'm feeling ripped off and mislead.   They have me stop the test because it's not mandatory.  Thanks for telling us in advance.  As the stench of "mistake' pervaids the air next to me... the other teacher tries to answer my questions.  I want to know exactly how they are going to lecture us in a lab.  They are not.  The two teachers leave, end of shift.  Here comes the 'tutor'.  Why this person is referred to as a 'tutor' instead of another teacher baffles me.  He is doing the same things the first two teacher are.  Milling around to answer a few questions.  I discover that there are 5 levels of students in this math lab and I ask myself how one lecture can possibly address all of us. 

Now the questions are coming out really fast now and I can hear my previous math teacher saying "you have alot of questions".  I sure do and I'd like some answers.  The tutor tells me he doesn't lecture, but he'll give me 15 min every night.  Uh..... helloooooo.... how is this person going to tutor 50 students?  Even if only half want to use him and 1/3 of the students flake out.... with even 20 students at all different levels, even I can do this math.  And now I'm in freak out mode because the new rules prohibit any late registration AND Pell no longer pays for most Summer II courses.  Now what can I do? 

Well, the only communication we got was about 3 days before class started saying we'd have these benefits in class.  Essentially, it is a lab with teachers available to answer questions 'in case' you have questions.  It's remedial math, who is the genious who thinks we may have questions?  Do you need a probability study to know people who don't know math are going to have some questions?  Not only is there no lecture and no tutoring, but you are not going to accelerate and finish two classes in one ...or three....or four... and in some cases... five.  Now I'm just beside myself and everyone is mumbling to talk to the Dean because no one can answer my questions about this class as it became really clear that this class is not exactly what was described. 

So, college course descriptions being limited... there is a "lab" course, which is essentially an online course you take at school.  The teacher that is there is more like a monitor over the equipment.  Then there is the 'lecture lab' course, which is a course you take in a lab with a teacher on hand for those who have questions.  Having tried these classes a couple of times I know it's not a fit. I need to get out fast.  I was quite to vocal opponent.  They all reassured me this would be fine, give it some time.  However, you have to get out of classes immediately when they aren't a fit or you get a "w" on a class and there's a financial aid rule about that, too. 

Insert a few choice words here.  I was not looking to be appeased.  Then the icing on the cake came.  The 'study skills' we were told we'd get was actually another class WITH homework and exams.  It was mandatory and tied to the math class.  My hair fell off right there in class.. .all of it... to the floor...and then my freckles began to fall one by one... all zillion of them. 

Ok not really, but good grief talk about a rude awakening.  Now I get that learning some different study habits might help...... but truly, what makes anyone think that after 3 hours of do it yourself math software with a monotone software droning on in terms you don't understand forcing a 30 second pause in between each page while you raise your hand repeatedly to get an explanation for each term you don't grasp.... and wait patiently .... WAKE UP.  Who can study like this?  The study skills should be first and then the homework. 

Then I find out it's a grant from Texas.  It's the 3rd year of the program.  They are also giving everyone a subway card to cover meals during the class, but you can't have food in the lab.  Nice.  Lame, but nice. 

So I discuss all my irritants with the 4th teacher and he assures me he will bring this to the Dean for me and the class will be changed so that I am not a victim.  I'm laughing because I don't see how they can revamp this schedule overnight and I know it's not a good fit for me. 

So the class is not at all what is promised.  You don't complete more than one course, you don't get a lecture or tutoring.  I'm sorry, but an online lecture is not the same as a classroom lecture.  Having a computer read the book to me is no different than reading the book to myself unless you add a 30 second pause between each page and call a friend whenever you have a question and discover what you need is a LECTURE that explains the foundation of what you are about to learn so you can learn it. 

Sorry.  I probably sound a bit irritated.  I was superbly disappointed and I promptly wrote the Dean to address my complaint.  Some subjects are well suited for online course work, math is not one of them.  Hence the ridiculous drop rate.  I left feeling like a big fat failure because I can't learn by simply reading the book.  I told the teachers I have too many questions and would be a disruption to the many other students trying to focus on their lesson.  I didn't think it was fair to either of us and I didn't want to sit in class getting frustrated trying to be patient...blah blah blah. 

The Dean called, apologized for the confusion and transferred me into a lecture course.  Hallelujah.  After spending several hours today doing math homework online... it is the lecture that I recall when doing the homework.  Even with the lecture, I still have to refer to notes, use the help tool and watch videos and google stuff to learn algebra.  You can't do all that in lab with a computer in your face... there's not enough room and they don't like you not using their software ALL the time.  It will step you into math.  Ok teacher.... really..... you don't step into math.  You introduce it and practice, that's it. It's either right or wrong.... that's it! 

So, I'm in my second week of lecture algebra.  At least I'll get one more class out of the way.  I'm almost scared to visit the University I hope to attend next Spring.  What is 'x' has a whole new meaning.  We treat students like caged guinea pigs and expect them to be more than lab rats.  I spend enough time in a cage... I mean cube.  If my Pell grant funds that were due to me in January ever arrive, that's math I can work with.  I press on.