June 16, 2015

Olsen, Paul
Dinosaurs and the History of Life

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

If you're taking this to fulfill your science req: DON'T. This class has taken off so many years of my life.

tl;dr: Olsen seems like a good guy, but the class is absolutely awful due to the irrational grading. I was bored all the time and only went to class because of the pop quizzes. Only take this class if you actually like dinosaurs and have stellar cramming skills because the amount of information you're expected to know is fucking ridiculous.

Class: He has iClicker quizzes most classes. Thankfully, he grades for attendance, not correctness. Even if your answer is wrong, you'll still get full points for just being there. He'll put up his slides online before each class. You can usually tell if there'll be a quiz that day if there's a slide in the powerpoint that's completely blank (he leaves the slide blank, rather than deleting it from the powerpoint). Take notes - once you finally start learning about dinosaurs, the slides are all pictures, no info or text. He likes to show dino movie clips a lot and talk about how they're inaccurate, so if you're into that good for you I guess. He also has lecture notes up from the early 2000s somewhere online, and they haven't changed much since. They're very useful if you can't be bothered to pay attention.

Homework: These were truly, truly awful. The instructions for each would be terribly vague and unclear; you would have no idea of how you were to go about it, what to do, and what the TAs wanted. I lost so many points because I didn't do something that the TAs were looking for, but that would never be mentioned in the instructions or class. Thankfully, there were only 3 and they ultimately don't count for much, but it was still super frustrating to see so many points docked for such trite things.

Research paper: Oh god. This motherfucking paper was a nightmare for so many people. Again, there was the issue of an incredibly vague topic, unclear examples, so once again, no one knew exactly what they should be delivering. They give you a long list of possible topics, but that doesn't mean you're safe. Originally, we got a rewrite that would account for half of the final paper grade, but so many people got fucked over by the shitty instructions and shitty grading and complained to Olsen that he decided to have the rewrite completely replace the first draft grade (after sending a condescending email on how to write a hypothesis, which was stupid because that was hardly the problem. The problem was the incredibly unclear instructions). One of the TAs was useless, the other was helpful & basically told me what to rewrite (probably because she was tired of dealing with unhappy students). However, if they were just clearer from the beginning (providing a partial sample paper, even) about what they were expecting, none of this would have been such a problem in the first place.

Final: This is a whole 'nother beast. You have to know so much fucking information, it's 99.9999% impossible. You have to know a list of 30-40 important dinosaurs/other ancient creatures, the time period they lived, where they were discovered, why they were important. You had to know several cladograms, be able to label a dinosaur skeleton, around 20 famous dig sites, and other misc. info on geology, genetics, dinosaur anatomy, and on and on and on. Thankfully the practice final was pretty close to the real final, but it still sucked.

Just don't take this class. Save yourself. Don't do it.


Note: percentages don't add up b/c I don't remember exact breakdown
Final (30-40%)
1 8-10 research paper. Rewrite option that either is worth half of final paper grade or completely replaces first draft. (40%?)
Pop quizzes (20-25%)
Occasional HW (5%)