Bad Courses Tier List

In the Worst Course Ever, I mentioned that I’ll talk about some of the other bad courses that I took at University of Washington. But I couldn’t figure out how to tackle the subject without sounding overly negative. Until now. Today, I’m going to put a spin on this disco ball and create a tier list of bad courses I took at UW.

Keep in mind that I took fewer intro courses than the average four-year student, so this list is not going to be helpful for knowing which of those courses to take or avoid. I’ll give a brief explanation of the scale, which rates bad courses in a reverse manner. The ‘S’ tier represents courses that are so bad, I can’t recommend them for any reason. The ‘D’ tier represents courses that I’d recommend for a ‘so bad, it’s good’ experience. Let’s just dive into this s***.

SOC 401 “Power and Punishment”

Rating: S

Taken Spring 2020

Kicking us off is the Worst Course Ever. If you haven’t read my analysis on why I call “Power and Punishment” the Worst Course Ever, you should do so. I have really solid evidence to present. Anyway, this course is lacking because the instructor who created it is borderline ‘All Lives Matter,’ and because the course refused to address the racial tensions that emerged at the time of its offering. It’s really ironic, because the course content is otherwise solid. The content addressed why the U.S criminal justice system and western democracy worldwide continue to disproportionately punish Black and brown people at the benefit of white communities with economic privilege. While the course encourages analysis of systems of power and punishment that uphold racism in the U.S., the course does not encourage action to address the issues. Given the lack of application in the fabric of this 400-level course, as well as its inability to adapt to emerging situations that obviously relate to the course, I have 100% reservations about taking this course again.

SOC 365 “Urban Community”

Rating: B

Taken Summer 2019

On the surface, I was pretty excited for this class about urban spatial arrangements, community life, and social issues. Great readings don’t exactly compensate for bad teaching though. The lectures made little, if any connections to the readings, and the regular assignments were so poorly prepared that we as a class were only assigned half of them throughout the quarter. The most valuable part of the class is the “POVcast” podcast project (60% of the grade), in which groups of students create an academic podcast on a specific urban community issue like residential segregation. I really enjoyed being able to work in a small group to record soundbites, make theory and data easy to understand for non-academic audiences, and solve podcast layout issues. If the instructor had given 100% effort on the lectures, then perhaps it would have inspired students to take the podcasts to a whole new level in terms of analysis, storytelling, and connection-building. The bad teaching in the course, coupled with great readings and a great project, makes this class truly mediocre and deserving of a middle-of-the-pack ‘B’ rating.

AIS 102 “Introduction to American Indian and Indigenous Studies” (Autumn 2018 and prior)

Rating: D

Taken Autumn 2016

This will probably be my most controversial take on a course that should be required for every student at the University of Washington. There’s no shortage of AIS courses that I’d argue every student needs to take. But until Autumn of 2019 when Professor Jean Dennison took over teaching duty for this course, students who took AIS 102 since at least 2016 would likely agree that there was absolutely no innovation in the course. None at all. The point breakdown says it all: 80% midterm and final exams, and 20% weekly discussion board posts. For a class that is so important to our society, there was bound to be some students who saw the point breakdown as an invitation to BS the class. And even considering I actually gave a **** about the class, much of the course content didn’t solidify for me until I took subsequent Indigenous Studies related courses. When I reviewed the lecture slides on Canvas three years later, I was reminded that my anthropology thesis advisor gave a guest lecture on the importance of respect, relationships, and reciprocity during the course. I just didn’t remember that happening.

Lack of innovation aside, the content was solid, and looking back on the course, I wish I would have learned about the importance of building relationships with guest speakers and other students—no matter how little it’s emphasized in the formal course requirements. Had AIS 102 continued to exist in its prior form, I would have given it a ‘D’ rating. It’s so bad, I think it’s a good lesson for every student and instructor to take away: If the content matters so much, your pedagogy should reflect that. Don’t rely on the traditional, colonial methods of academia to assess learning that is crucial for the active dismantling of the same institutions that harm Indigenous communities. Because you’re letting a lot more settlers off the hook than you think.

With that said, Professor Dennison’s AIS 102 is a major overhaul relative to the previous version. In my opinion, Jean recognizes the importance of getting students to care about the subject matter—and she does so in an engaging manner. In Autumn 2019, there were interactive group projects, presentations, community connections, and poster projects. While this course format is likely being revised and adapted especially because of COVID-19, it is at least a welcoming departure from the more traditional (?) course format of yesterday’s AIS 102. The course is filled for this year’s offering, but there is always a next year!

BIO A 201 “Principles of Biological cultural Anthropology”

Rating: B

Taken Winter 2017

This is a survey Physical Anthropology course that every anthropology student needed to take. When I took the class, it was offered in lecture format with a lab. Other than the lab, there was no experiential learning, and the exams were based on how well you can take them. For example, half of the exam questions were true or false statements, and you had to read each part of the statement carefully. If even one portion of the statement was off, the entire thing is false. Despite how much it hurts to perform rote memorization, the instructor actually did one thing right. He had a dry sense of humour. There were many jokes here and there that actually helped me to memorize the content a little better. And, you couldn’t answer his extra credit questions on the exams without matching up to his level of toilet joking. Overall, BIO A 201 is just another truly mediocre class that deserves a ‘B’ rating.

With that said, I want to hit you with a riddle. Complete this sentence: There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who can extrapolate from data, and_________________. Let me know in the comments below.

AES 151 “Identities, Cultures, And Power Across American Ethnic Groups”

Rating: C

Taken Spring 2017

This will also likely be a controversial take on a content course that every UW student should take at some point during their academic careers. One thing this course and others like it have in common is that they’re ultimately tied to normative academic traditions of teaching and learning. Like AIS 102 courses of the previous generation, AES 151 relies on exams, quizzes, and reading responses to assess student learning. So why is AES 151 so bad it’s so good? Because it’s a great example of what happens when you care about students of colour who may still be new to college. Many of the lectures ask for students to interact with each other, the discussion sections are packed with collaborative assignments, and students ultimately shape what’s on the exams. Students can also do service learning in place of the regular quizzes. There’s something for everyone in this course, whether you’re new to UW or not.

EDUC 299 “Education, Learning, and Society Colloquium”

Rating: A

Taken Autumn 2017

The ELS Colloquium is a 1-credit reading course that deals with current issues in education. Even though the readings and podcasts were decent, this is the one course that made me second-guess my decision to pursue the ELS minor (or any other education program, for that matter). Much of the conversations were dominated by white women, who comprise at least half of the class. Since I was a younger undergraduate student, I certainly wasn’t prepared to navigate the dynamics that come with a predominantly white demographic. And that’s really about it.

GRDSCH 200 “Preparing for Graduate Education”

Rating: D

Taken Autumn 2019

This course is all about preparing students for the graduate school selection and application process. The major downfall of this course is that students rarely receive feedback from the instructor. But that’s not what the course is designed for. Many students—myself included—appreciate this course because it at least gives the time, space, and crucial lore for students to workshop application materials and plan ahead for the future. You can’t walk away from this otherwise mediocre course without a graduate school application, a letter of recommendation request, and a good idea of whether graduate school is right for you or not. For this reason, Preparing for Graduate Education is so bad, it’s good.

Honourable Mentions: “Contemporary Issues of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans” (AAS 206) and “Asian American and Pacific Islander American Identity: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” (AAS 210)

Rating: Not on the list

Offered Winter and Spring Quarter

I didn’t take these AAS courses, and never needed to. So why am I talking about them? In 2018 following decades of student activism, UW approved and added the Oceania and Pacific Islander Studies minor under the American Indian Studies department. There are two required courses, 10 credits of electives, and 5 credits of internship. For the required courses, students need AIS 102, and a choice of either AAS 206 or AAS 300 or ANTH 307. However, neither of the latter two choices were ever offered on campus for the life of the minor. The reason I had ANTH 307 was because that’s how one of my study abroad courses translated. The rest of the students were stuck with only the option of completing AAS 206 until the 2019-2020 academic year, when AAS 210 replaced AAS 300 and ANTH 307 as an option for completing the required courses.

This is important, because there is only one single instructor who have taught—and is still teaching—both AAS 206 and AAS 210. The instructor, who is not Pacific Islander identifying, basically has monopoly over the required courses for the OPIS minor. Unless students have the privilege of studying abroad in the Pacific Islands, less have a faculty member vet for one of those courses to count as either AAS 206 or AAS 210, every OPIS minor student has to go through this one single instructor. If every instructor were their own private sector company, this arrangement would easily violate anti-trust laws. But because this is the UW, the higher-ups don’t really give a f*** about that. They only care about making themselves look good on paper, and not about creating space for the free and unequivocal exchange of ideas among Pacific Islander students, mentors, and community members. Based on what I learned from Pacific Islander students who took AAS 206, not even a quarter of the content is dedicated strictly to Pacific Islander issues.

I made several posts talking about why the “AAPI” nomenclature is so problematic. The AAS monopoly situation underscores the lack of a true commitment by UW to be antiracist. The underfunding of departments that address core Pacific Islander issues, as well as the lack of Pacific Islander faculty across much of the UW, leaves Pacific Islanders in a position of having to continue to fight for space in the institution. In other words, the fight was never over, and the legacies of student activism will continue for a very long time. I see the AAS monopoly as an impediment for the long term success of the OPIS minor and the eventual creation of a major, because it doesn’t promote a space where Pacific Islander students can unapologetically be Pacific Islanders in their engagement with ideas and issues that affect their communities. While AAS 206 and AAS 210 don’t make it on the tier list, they deserve an honourable mention for the unfinished work the University has yet to complete in its creation of Pacific Islander focused spaces.

ARCH 598 “Learning from our Elders: A Seminar in NW Indigenous Architecture and Culture: Past, Present and Future”

Rating: A

Taken Autumn 2019

I know there are folks who will fight me on why I gave this an ‘A’ rating rather than an ‘S’, so let me explain. Yeah, the course really sucked. Yeah, the instructor was a big ***hole to undergraduates. But at least in terms of content and application, the course encourages students to put their ***es where their mouths are. This is what sets this course apart from the Worst Course Ever. The course is chock-full of guest speakers, field work, group work, and inventive research and application projects. It’s a lot of work, but stuff that is worthwhile if the only thing you’re looking for are skills to seek and apply knowledge to issues outside of academia. With that said, while the course is very involved, it does a terrible job of weaving together the community of graduate and undergraduate students, as well as Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. The instructor did not create respectful professional relationships with the Indigenous undergraduate students and student organizations. The grad students—the majority whom are white or white-presenting—don’t help matters either. In fact, for my final project, I was grouped with two of the most self-serving grad students in the class. I should know, because I worked with the same two students on a first project. I made an emotionally laborious but smart decision to tackle the project on my own.

This is the one course that really made me stop and reflect on what it meant to be a first generation, low income student of colour. Even though I did really well in the class, I struggled to build and maintain the kinds of meaningful relationships with the instructor, my older colleagues, and community members who can potentially support me on my journey to grad school. Looking back on my experiences of the terrible community dynamics in the course, I unfortunately learned that when I’m offered a course suggestion by someone who doesn’t share the same experiences of being a first generation and low-income student, I should take it with a grain of salt. It’s also really sad, but somehow a blessing that what united the undergraduate Indigenous students together was our experience of taking a really sh***y course. Even though the course is hands-on and at least useful to some degree, I can’t ethically recommend this course as ‘so bad, it’s good’ due to undue and regularly extreme emotional hardships that the Indigenous undergraduate students faced.

With that said, I want to turn your attention to a graphic by Payne (1995) about the “hidden rules among classes.” Even though Payne’s claims are bold and sometimes questionable in this day and age, they’re helpful for understanding the brutal elitism that first generation students of color often struggle to navigate. Language, behavior, and relationships—not just content—that center the experiences of the wealthy elite can cause disastrous experiences for first generation students, as our collective experiences in ARCH 598 illustrates. As the graphic points out and as demonstrated elsewhere in the tier list, relationship-building across students, instructors, and communities is crucial if first generation students of colour are to excel in their learning in AIS, AES, and other BIPOC-focused departmental courses.

Hidden Rules Among Classes (Payne 1995)

And that’s about it for the tier list. If there’s even a remote chances that some of the more advanced courses are offered again, you know to avoid them. Don’t forget to bookmark for more blog posts. That’s it. See you.

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