Review Comment

[PHYS C2001] Special Relativity

May 26, 2014

Greene, Brian and Brainerd, Andrew (TA)
[PHYS C2001] Special Relativity

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

Professor Greene uses his new website (now public!) to teach the class for him. There is a weekly 2 hour session where he reviews the online lessons, which are comprised of “modules”, and then the class goes over some harder problem with Brian’s guidance. The modules take somewhere between 1 and 2 hours each and usually 4-5 are assigned a week (there are 44 total). The 2nd to last week of class, we go over things beyond the online course, which is cool, and the final week of class is the final (its not during finals week) but Prof. Greene left this up to a vote and we voted for a week early. The online material is slow and at times tedious and boring, but the problems work for helping you to understand. The final grade is based mostly on your performance on the final exam. I got a lot of the online material wrong, but did well on the final so I did well in the class. After each online problem is an explanation of how to do it which is quite useful.

I did not find either the online class or the session especially wonderful but somehow I learned the material (and I certainly did not study anything extra).

A few things:
It is cool to have a famous professor as your teacher.
Brian Greene will NOT know your name if you take this class.
Sorry.
That being said, he is a hilarious dude, listen to him in the sessions, he is funny when he makes side comments.
Watch all the videos on double speed (click on the gear in the bottom right corner), it saves you time and saves you time again because I would stop playing attention to his slow voice. On double speed, he talks at a normal, intelligible rate.
He knows his stuff and can explain it to you about 7 different ways, make use of this, ask questions.
He will always be in character. Less in character than his Novas, but still in character. Enjoy it!

Given the choice, I would take the class again.

Workload:

About 4-6 hours a week for the online material. Make sure you have done the most recent modules before you go to class, otherwise class doesn’t help. He also dislikes absentees. So go to class.

If you ace the final, he curves it. It will be your grade. If you do better on the midterm, he weighs the midterm, online material and final to get your grade. How exactly he weighs things he doesn’t say. (Most people I think get As)

December 22, 2013

Greene, Brian and Brainerd, Andrew (TA)
[PHYS C2001] Special Relativity

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

This review is for Greene's Special Relativity class, which is a relatively (no pun intended) new mode of teaching that Professor Greene was intimately involved in creating. It involved a lot of online learning, which is very different than what I was expecting when I signed up for the course. Nevertheless, I did learn a good deal from the experience.

To preface this review, let me first say that Professor Greene knows exactly what he's talking about. He knows the physics behind every problem, he has an incredibly intuitive grasp of the material, he gets special relativity. That being said, he's not an impressive professor because there is a significant disconnect between the student and the professor in this course. We weren't really being taught by him; rather, we were being taught by video lectures and things that he happened to be the face of. And we did have the luxury of having a two hour discussion-style section with him every week, but sometimes this time wasn't used well, and many times, it was just arduous to sit through him have back-and-forths with one or two students for an hour and a half.

In addition, the communication between Professor Greene and his students was atrocious. About half the class thought the final was a full week before it actually was. Nobody knew how he was grading. It was quite subjective - although, to be fair, he said that he "adjusted the percentages" to our benefit. But no one knew if this meant online materials were worth 10% or 90%, if our final was worth 25% or 75%, what our midterm was worth, what our homework set was worth, nothing. He never expanded on this at the end of the semester, either. Just got our grades thrown at us with not the slightest mention of how he got those numbers. I realize that this is rather commonplace at Columbia, but in most classes, you receive some sort of grade breakdown at the beginning of the year - final is worth 25%, midterm worth 15%, things like that. Not with Special Relativity.

A word about the TA, Andrew Brainerd - I used him as a resource very late in the semester, and it's a shame that I did. The guy knows what he's doing. He's a pretty lenient grader as well.

Overall, I did learn a lot about special relativity, but it felt a lot more like a slightly-guided, self-taught course where I learned from videos rather than a textbook. If this seems appealing to you, take the course.

Workload:

Not terrible - we had a couple of exercises and "problem sets" in our online materials. They were all multiple choice, and not terribly difficult. We had exactly one written problem set that was much more involved and short answer - it was actually really useful, but it was worth a lot. One midterm (take-home). Final was pretty straightforward.

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