Gas station without pumps

2014 March 3

Fifteenth day of freshman design seminar

Filed under: freshman design seminar — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:57
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I had a couple of announcements at the beginning of the class:

  • If the TAs go on strike on Wednesday, I would have class as usual, but not require anyone to be there, if getting there meant crossing a picket line. I usually support the TA union pretty strongly, but this time the demands on their posters seemed petty and childish (like demanding genderless bathrooms) or illegal (like equal access for undocumented workers). I always have a bit of trouble with strikes at universities (or any other public service union), as the people hurt by the strike are the students not the administrators—it is quite different from a traditional industrial action, where stopping production stops the source of income for the administrators. The students don’t get back any tuition for any instruction that they don’t receive, so denying them instruction seems wrong. A one-day strike to raise public awareness and sympathy can be a valuable tool, but I doubt that the TA union is going to get much sympathy with their current strike, given the unpopularity of their demands with the public. If they had focussed on just major points (like the math department hiring people who are not grad students to do TA jobs at lower pay, dodging the unionization of the TAs), there might have been more point to the strike.Incidentally, I do hire undergraduate “group tutors” to help in some of my classes. They are doing some of the same work that a TA would but generally for shorter hours (4–10 hours a week, not 20 hours a week).  There is no way to hire 1/5 of a TA for a course, so the undergrad group tutors are a good compromise, when the expertise of grad students is not needed. I’ve not had a class large enough to get a TA for several years now, since it requires something like 80 students in a class before a TA is budgeted.
    [UPDATE 2014 Mar 4: The UAW and the University settled, and there won’t be a strike tomorrow. The silly things on the union posters were not at issue—just two substantive issues: one about TAs in one department being required to work more than the 20 hours a week they are paid for, and the other about the math department hiring lots of undergrads at low pay to replace TAs. I think that the silly issues came from UCB, and that the UCSC TAs were more interested in things that were actual grievances. I am curious about exactly how the math department TA issue was resolved, and how it will affect my ability to hire group tutors for classes that wouldn’t get a TA anyway.]
  • I’m planning to have a library information session to help the students learn about non-book resources in the library and about search strategies, though I don’t know when one can be scheduled—I forgot to ask the librarians early in the quarter, when I should have done it. I sent in the request early this morning, but haven’t heard back yet.

After the announcements, today’s class was mainly a group advising session—I took questions from the students at the beginning of the class, as I often do, but encouraged them to ask about courses as well as anything technical related to their projects.  We spent almost an hour on various advising questions, since most of them are trying to sign up for courses for Spring (and many of the classes they need are already full before they are even allowed to sign up).  We talked about such things as what physics series to sign up for, what the differences were between the 4 different ways they could get into programming at UCSC (Python first, Java first, C and assembly first, or Java first slowly). I suggested the Python-first course for those in the biomolecular concentration (since the examples in it are aimed at biologists and biochemists, and you get to a useful level of programming quicker), the C-and-assembly-first course sequence for those in bioelectronics or the new assistive technology:motor concentration (since those concentrations involve hooking things up to microcontrollers), and the Java-first approaches for the new assistive technology: cognitive/perceptual concentration, since they will mainly be writing larger programs.

At the end of the class, we discussed t-shirt designs.  I offered to do a design like the ones I’ve done for other classes (see Cyberslug t-shirt designs and Bar exam for circuits class), but the students seemed more interested in coming up with their own design (which I see as a good thing). One of the students has a small side business selling t-shirts he has designed, and he showed some of his work.  Another student wanted to put a cartoon of me on the shirt. We talked a little bit about the differences between silkscreen printing and transfers, and I suggested that they come up with a design that used no more than 2 silkscreen stencils.

I also said that I didn’t care much what design they came up with, but it should be something that nearly the whole class liked well enough to want to buy, as the cost per shirt goes down substantially with the size of the order.  I also mentioned that I greatly prefer black t-shirts to other colors (about a third to a half the class was wearing black t-shirts, so I think that this may be a common preference).

I told the students to send their design ideas to the class mailing list, so that people could vote on what they wanted on the shirts.

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