Giovanni Motta

Mar 2014

First, this was a six credits class, that should have substituted for Calculus 2, Linear Algebra and Computing. In spite of being a six credits class, the class was scheduled by the Registrar to meet as a regular three credits class, so it was impossible to cover everything. We did all Linear Algebra in three lectures. Multivariate calculus was covered in thirty minutes. Computing was totally ignored. It did not help that one third of the course was spent on Calculus 1. If you are planning to take this class, make sure that it is going to meet the regular six hours a week, as a six credits class should. I will have to take Linear Algebra again and then take Java, so this class was not a good deal for me. That said, the professor was very knowledgeable, and prepared his lectures carefully. The lectures were theoretical, very interesting and made me eager to study and learn more math. Unfortunately though the professor did not know how Columbia works and lacked teaching experience. Before the midterm he said: "I scheduled the midterm on midterm week on purpose, so you don't have classes". When we told him that we do have classes during midterm week, he looked at us like he could not believe that. Even if he was well meaning and he tried to engage the students, he had problem communicating with them. This was due to the fact that sometimes he was not even listening to what the students were saying. For example, once he started answering a different question from the one you had asked, there was no way to interrupt him. At this point I would like to describe our final. I look at the front page of the final exam and it says: "solve the following nine problems using the extra space available". Nine problems, not bad, I think. Then I open the exam (booklet would be a better word, since there are 34 pages stapled together) and I see that every problem is composed of four or five questions (numbered 1,2 3, etc.), and every question is composed of two or three sub-questions (numbered a,b,c,etc.) so the whole final is composed of maybe 70, 80 questions? I remember well the 34 pages, since we had write our name and UNI on each one of them (it takes you ten minutes just to do that). After three hours, I expect the final to be over any minute, right? Wrong. Prof. Motta does not say anything and we all keep scribbling. Since the final is composed of at least 80 math questions there is still a lot to do for everybody. Problem is, I have something else to do. After 20 extra minutes I ponder my options: - I could say: "please can we all stop here? I need to go". - I could remain silent and leave while the other students keep working for who knows how long. Consider that there are only eight students in the class and that the grades are curved. - I could remain silent and keep working. Unfortunately I can't take my phone and call my friends to tell them "Sorry guys, go ahead without me, my final is prolonged indefinitely". What would have you done? I chose the third option. After about an hour (so after four hours of final) one student, the best student in the class, says: "I can keep going for the whole afternoon." The professor then looks at the class and says: "Well, aren't you guys hungry yet? OK, ten more minutes and that's it". I am sure that the professor meant well and wanted us to have more time to work on the problems, but he did not take into accounts that people may have other things to do. Summary. The main problem of this class was that it was meeting only three hours a week. This was not the professor's fault. That said, while Professor Motta is an excellent lecturer, he still needs to gain experience interacting with students. He is very young so I am sure that he will improve with time and become an excellent professor.

Jan 2014

This class may seem like a good idea for a stats major who wants to condense their math requirements. As taught by Motta, it's not. This is due to some combination of the professor, his curriculum, and possibly the department. Professor Motta was routinely late to class and seemed completely unaware of anything about the undergraduate calendar. He came to class on time maybe three times the entire semester - which would be fine except he also never ended the class on time. He had no idea that we didn’t have a “midterm week” and instead of changing the exam length, he just made us come in early or stay late. Basically, don’t put any classes or obligations back to back with this. He also assigned a problem set during reading week. He is typically quick with emails but will often answer the question he thinks you asked rather than the one you actually asked. As for the curriculum, maybe you’re expecting Calc III and Linear Algebra condensed into one semester, considering Calc I is a prerequisite. Nope. We ended up covering mostly topics from high school precalculus and calculus classes. I was mostly interested in the linear algebra and multivariable calculus and we did that for maybe two weeks, tops. Also, everything got a pretty superficial treatment because we sped through. (Why is this class six points? Well, if it’s offered as a twice-a-week 1.25 hour class as it was in fall 2013, it shouldn’t be. (This is from the director of undergraduate studies for statistics, who thought it was being offered either for longer or for more days a week.) Whether that’s Motta’s fault or the department’s lack of oversight, I don’t know, but it does explain a lot about the points and the fact that we barely touched what seemed like the main curriculum.) There are only two exams, as is typical for a stats class, though there really should be more, since it's actually a math class. Exams pull from the reading a lot, but were decently difficult, and had very little to do with the vast majority of the homework… which might be fine if Professor Motta would actually give you an idea of how well you did relative to the class, but he was weirdly cagey about it. (A good TA does wonders for this class.) He says he curves the final grade, rather than individual tests. In short, I would recommend you just go ahead and take Calc III and Linear Algebra and stay far away from this class, particularly if Professor Motta is teaching. This was his first semester doing this class so maybe it'll get better but from my experience it was a complete mess.