I just got back in town, and found this email message in my inbox.
First, I want to apologize publically to the student who wrote the
original message.  It is correct that I try to always cover up the name 
of the student who sends me email when I share his/her message with the
class.  In this case, I had not intended to share the message, but
thought I was responding to the one student privately.  Again, I am
very sorry to have identified the student to all of you.  That was
not my intent.

I am repeating the response I sent the student to all of you again (this time 
with the student's identity deleted) because the student was not unique 
in feeling that way, and my response is applicable to many of you.

Most importantly, I think a lot of you have been working very hard, but
have not gotten past the difference between "sort-of-knowing" and really
understanding things.  I have been teaching engineering students for a very
long time, and based on a lot of past experience, I think most of you will 
get it between now and the final exam IF you do not give up.

I am going to schedule a number of one-hour sessions over the next couple
of weeks with those who appear to still be in trouble.  I am going to 
restrict those sessions to a maximum of ten students each, and see if I 
can help you get over that hump. I am also willing to talk privately to 
any student who has been working hard in this course, but has yet to see 
the results.  I will try to schedule as many of these meetings as I can 
between now and when you leave for Thanksgiving, but may have to continue 
them after you get back from Thanksgiving.

One of my TAs offered the following comments when he saw my response to
the original email message:

   Dr. Patt,

   I am sure you hit the point with the "sort-of-know" idea. In my sections,
   I also got comments about the exam similar to the one from the student. 
   "This is by far the hardest class I've had.... I get 97 on the other 
   classes and 40 on this one...".  Many were disappointed and didn't even 
   want to talk about the exam. Then I asked them why. Answer: the other 
   classes just test if they "know" the material, i.e. if they are able to 
   repeat what they did before or to solve simple problems. But we ask them 
   to really use the knowledge to solve new problems. I'm sure most of them 
   studied hard and "know the material" in the way they are used to. However, 
   we ask them to think beyond simply reciting their knowledge, and it's hard 
   to get used to do that, especially if they can still get away without 
   thinking too much in the other classes...

   The only solution for this is for them to understand that studying
   Engineering means they have to think deeper than just scratching the 
   surface barely enough to get things done.  It just requires a change 
   in their mindset: knowing is not enough, they have to understand.

I agree with my TA's analysis.

As I said on the first day of class, my objective in this course is to
provide you with a solid foundation, from which you can start to build a 
successful career in Engineering.  I would be doing you no favor if I
started testing how well you sort-of-know the material.  Knowing something
means being able to use it.

I remain hopeful, again based on past experience, that when the semester
is over and after the pain has gone away, you will be happy with the result.

If you have been working hard thus far, please do not give up now.

Sorry for the long message.  I will see you in class on Monday.

Yale Patt

        Hello Dr. Patt,
        I am sending this email to you, just to notify you that 
        you had forwarded this email to other students beside 
        the student by mistake, without covering up the name as 
        you have done always.

        <<name withheld to protect the student who is being helpful>>

        On 11/18/06, Yale Patt <patt@ece.utexas.edu> wrote:
        >       Hi Dr. Patt,
        >       This mail is just to say that i don't think 
        >       your exams test if we really know the material 
        >       that has been taught in class. Because I think i
        >       know the material pretty well,
        > I am happy to meet with you and go over each item on the exam.  
        > I believe the exam tested exactly whether you knew the material, 
        > or whether you "sort-of-knew" the material.  I will be interested 
        > in hearing from you what concept on the exam had not been explained 
        > in detail in class.
        >       i read the book word for word (very chapter), i
        >       come to class every day, i have never missed class, i go 
        >       to the TA sessions on friday, i actually go to both *****'s 
        >       and ********'s class on Fridays to make sure i have heard 
        >       the material from two point of views. I know i failed that 
        >       second test, even worse than the first one, and i was more 
        >       prepared and understood the concepts more than i did for the
        >       first test. i don't know what to do anymore, i'm trying. 
        >       i really am.
        > I am glad you are trying, and hope you will continue to.  If you 
        > did as badly as you think you did on the second test, then I would 
        > like to find out just what the problem is, so you will do great on 
        > the final and do well in the course.  I don't want you to give up 
        > on this.
        > We can talk after class on Monday if you wish.
        > Yale Patt