recitations

For some professors, the role of the recitation at Penn is in flux.

Credit: Owain West

There is no typical recitation — they come in all sizes and subjects, with each professor choosing to structure them differently. But in certain classes, traditional models of recitations are in flux.

Communication professor Amy Jordan switched her recitation for Communication 125 to Mondays this year, instead of the more traditional Friday morning time frame.

“It’s been very good for helping students to be awake, because for many students at Penn, Thursday night is the beginning of the weekend,” Jordan said.

But she said that Mondays also provide an issue because students generally have more classes on those days, which makes it more difficult to find times that work.

“It’s a dance really — it’s a kind of balance that we’re looking for,” she said.

College sophomore Lindsey Chambers finds balancing recitations with classes to be a dance as well — and sometimes not a graceful one.

“My math recitation is at 8:30 a.m., and all my other classes start at 10 or later. And it’s kind of annoying to have the flow of your week disrupted because I have to go to this one class at 8:30,” Chambers said. “Most people have schedules that work with early mornings, but no one wants to be there.”

Chambers has a weekly quiz-based math recitation, a physics one that closely resembles office hours and an art history recitation that sometimes involves traveling to Center City to look at examples of architecture. But she said that they all share some universal aspects.

“People who need it for their grade are going to go. People who need help are going to go. But people who don’t care aren’t going to go, and I don’t think you can change that,” she said.

Economics professor Rebecca Stein’s recitations are also changing, but not to cater to students’ party schedules.

“I try to minimize babysitting,” Stein said.

Instead, she’s had to adapt her recitations to the new flipped classroom model that’s being implemented in certain subjects. Students watch videos at home and then work through problems in class, which means that the traditional role that the recitation provided — working through homework problems — isn’t really applicable anymore. Instead, Stein now sees recitations as a way to delve into more difficult material, as in the kinds of things that students would more likely see on midterms.

“I’m not sure this is the ideal,” she said. “I’m still trying to mold where that recitation piece is going.”

Religious Studies professor Justin McDaniel has perhaps slightly more radical ideas about recitations than most.

“I would ideally want a recitation once a month for a marathon four-hour recitation that students really prepared for, where there could be reading discussions and paper writing workshops,” he said.

But for now he’s sticking to the once-a-week model. And as for catering to students’ inability to wake up early on Fridays, he sides more with Stein.

“If students can’t make it to a 9 a.m. recitation on Friday, then how are they going to eventually have a job?” he asked. “We have to provide all the resources to help them excel, but they also need to be adults.”

McDaniel said he sees a deeper underlying issue with apathy toward recitations, which stems from Penn students’ priorities.

“Penn students primarily are concerned about grades and not about the learning,” he said. “Class is secondary to clubs and activities and launching new apps and startups.”

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