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Learning on your own, a disadvantage in the long run?

  1. Apr 12, 2005 #1
    I'm taking intro to E&M this semester and I simply can not comprehend a word my professor says. Basically, I'm studying from the text (and other texts) and doing problems from books that have Questions and solutions. I'm also not attending most classes since, since like I said they're not helping.

    Now, I think that's good enough. I know I'm understanding the material. However, somehow I feel like not doing it the 'normal' way is a disadvantage. This is just me being paranoid and insecure btw, which is how my brain functions 24/7. :rofl:

    However, I'm just curious to see your experiences like how much of what you know did you learn on your own and such. :smile:
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 12, 2005 #2
    I've always had problems learning from lectures, and often get very little out of them. However, it makes a huge difference if you learn (or partially learn) the material first, then go to lecture. I was just too lazy/busy to do so.

    It's definitely important not to learn in a vacuum though. Interaction with profs and other students can help a lot.
     
  4. Apr 12, 2005 #3

    ZapperZ

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    It is often difficult to know what is important and what isn't. Your class professor will often emphasize what is important, and skim through what isn't. Learning on your own, you may not know this. When I was teaching, I tend to put a box around important equations or concepts and put **** in red chalk to emphasize to the students (it was an obvious hint that this is a concept that they will be tested on).

    And let's face it, the reality of what really counts is still how you perform in an exam. Your instructor will tend to emphasize what will be tested. You would not know this if you don't show up regularly. However, if you're already doing well in such exams, then I'd say you have an idea on what's important and I wouldn't sweat on the fact that you don't show up in class. On the other hand, I wouldn't use this as a general rule in all the subjects in physics.

    Zz.
     
  5. Apr 12, 2005 #4
    ZapperZ you taught physics!? Would you mind if I ask you a question...? :tongue:

    I'm studying from both the knight and giancoli texts (tried grifith/purcell ones but cover stuff like laplance equations which aren't mentioned any where in my school text :eek: ) and also have study guides like schaum's and the elby problem solving ones and watching the OCW (mit open courses) video lectures...


    Is there anything else you think I should do? Like a really good book I should know about or something?
     
  6. Apr 12, 2005 #5

    ZapperZ

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    If you are refering to E&M text, I would only recommend Griffith's, at least at the undergraduate level. It is, pedagogically, the clearest text in my opinion.

    Use the Schaum outline only as a guide to solving problems, not as a means to teach yourself E&M.

    Zz.
     
  7. Apr 12, 2005 #6

    Gokul43201

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    I'm confused ! Giancoli and Knight are general physics texts while Griffiths and Purcell are for E&M.

    If you have learnt basic calculus, I would recommend Resnick & Halliday.
     
  8. Apr 12, 2005 #7
    Well I meant that I'm studying the E&M sections of Giancoli and Knight...

    Anyway thanks for the replies. :smile:
     
  9. Apr 12, 2005 #8

    mathwonk

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    I am a math teacher and I thionk it is a HUGE mistake to miss even one class, for almost everyone, except maybe a genius, which face it none of us is.


    In addition to what is said above:

    1) your grade suffers, since the teacher at least reveals in class what he will test.
    2) the reason the lectures do not help is mainly that you are not there, rather than they are not useful.
    3) Even if you are really smart and a good reader, the book is only one possible presentation of a bunch of stuff, by someone who may actually not know as much as your teacher.
    4) Even if the book's author knows a lot, he may have witheld some of it that your teacher thinks is important, so that part is only available in lecture.
    5) If the teacher is knowledgable, his/her version will be an alternative from the book, designed to give you enough perspective to get inside the material.
    6) You learn with more than your eyes, you also learn with your ears, and you are not listening to the lecture.
    7) Timke spent in lecture is far more efficient than time spent reading. It can take 3 or 4 hours to read from a book what you could have learned in a 1 hour lecture, especially if you do not even know which parts the teacher emphasized, and thus you have to read it all.
    8) The mere presence of an interested listener with good questions can inspire the teacher to teach more vibrantly and at a higher level.

    So you may indeed learn most of the material, but you may learn it at a lower level than you could be doing, using more time than necessary, and you could get a lower grade than you should, and you will never really know what gems your teacher might have provided. And you are wasting your tuition money (or mom and dad's.) since books are cheaper than lectures.

    Unfortunately it almost too late now, since you have missed so much you can probably never catch up, unless your class is aimed at the dullest bunch in there. So good luck, try to have more self discipline next time.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2005
  10. Apr 12, 2005 #9
    Such discouraging words, but I have to disagree. I don't find going to lecture (especially for classes like calculus) very important, since the classes build on the ones bfore them. I went through calc 1,2,3 with an average attendance of maybe twice a week and didnt have trouble understanding anything even though i had missed alot of class.

    Alot of it just being a quick learner, being able to understand why things happen. If you pay attention in your book the explanation for certain things you'll see that it just goes along with what you've already covered.

    A tip for lectures that you do go to, don't take notes, you'll find you spend the entire time writing things down, then come time to study, you have no idea what they mean. You don't need to write down examples, because there ar eexamples in the book. Just pay attention to what the professor is doing and listen to what he says, he is often explaining the very details that outline the concept, which is what is most important. You can crunch numbers on your own time.

    Lastly, do problems. Do alot of problems, make sure you understand your concepts inside out, more conceptually than numerically.
     
  11. Apr 12, 2005 #10

    mathwonk

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    your advice on going to lectures is good. your recommenadtion not to go to class suggests either that you are wasting an opportunity, or that you have terrible lecturers. A lecturer in calculus usually has at least a phd in math. do you know what that implies about his grasp of the subject? It means he knows not just the first two or three years of beginning calculus, but also advanced calculus, and then graduate level analysis, possibly both real and complex, in finite and infinite dimensions, and possibly also differential equations, both ordinary and partial, differential geometry and manifold theory, and maybe applications to physics.

    if he/she imparts even a tiny bit of that insight you will have learned something you can never get by reading your elementary book. And if he/she is good, and if you go to class and reveal by your questions that you are ready for it, she/he will do just that. If your classes are really not worth going to, you are at a very bad school, or are choosing your classes very badly. With the job crunch what it is today, I suspect there is not a school in the US today where the teachers do not know vastly more than any undergraduate can appreciate aboput calculus.

    Give yourself a chance to learn something beyond the trivial amount that is in the book. Take advantage of the professor's knowledge. If necessary force him to reveal some of it by asking intelligent questions. Otherwise you are consciously chosing to limit what you learn to the minimum.

    Here is an example that happened to me. I was teaching a basic differential equations class out of a run of the mill book, and boring myself when an intelligent young woman came up and asked a question implying that she was bored too, and wanted more. I began to ratchet up the level of the class. Soon she ahd almost all she could handle but did not want to back off, and she was really enjoying it for the first time. I presented geometric material on flows and vector fields, taking it from some great texts used and written at Berkeley, that went far beyond ours. Then the next semester I introduced linear algebra again supplementing our book with a much more advanced one I got in the mail. Then I went into some stuff I had learned in advanced calculus and analysis, on compact Hermitian operators and Sturm Liouville systems.

    That woman forced me to upgrade that course from an ordinary one to a very challenging one, simply by being present, and showing she was ready for more than I was offering. You can't get that if you just stay home and pat yourself on the back for keeping up with the dullards in the class.

    Here is another current example I have: there is one guy in one of my classes who is very bright and learns quickly and easily, faster and more deeply than anyone else in class. Of cousre he is often bored. he is also often late and sometimes skips class and can still usually understand everything by reading the book, so seldom takes notes.

    recently however he emailed me the morning of the test, to ask for an interpretation of the one theorem in the book whose proof was not intuitive. well i had already given an alternative more intuitive presentation in class but he had not been there to hear it. so i prepared another rpesentation, to make it really clear for the next class but he did not even show up. This is frustrating to me, and he is only getting a B when he could be getting an A+. I am not penalizing him at all, but he is penalizing himself by missing some explanations, and he may well emerge with only a mediocre grasp of the subject when he could be getting an excellent one if were trying harder.

    Here is an example of a question you could ask after almost any theorem the professor proves: "Does that theorem have a higher dimensional [or non linear, or infinite dimensional] analog?" Or if he leaves out the proof of something, "could you tell us the ideas involved in that proof?"
    What do you think? could it work at your school?
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2005
  12. Apr 12, 2005 #11
    You pretty much describe me :)

    I agree that he may not understand things such as the application of certain proofs to a higher dimension, or the founding ideas for certain theorems, but keep into consideration the difference of interests between you the professor and the student. Most students taking calculus are not math majors, they are engineers. Engineers at ASU need Calculus I, II, III (up to vector calc and 3d calc) two semesters of Diff Eq and two semesters of Linear algebra, thats alot of math. However, at no point will they need to recall proofs of theorems, or applications to problems other than tohse they will be dealing with. If they know hwo to solve a problem, then the rest (to them) is irrelevant.

    You are describing the interests of someone who may perhaps be a math major, one who is in the class for the math. Although there is a difference in the mediocre students and the excelling students, the end result is the same. That student who's extremely intelligent but doesnt attend class may get a B, but like you said he understands the material perfectly, what is an A+?
    A credential doesnt justify knowledge and understanding, it justifies completion of assigned work. If I already know how to do something, or I can learn it on my own time without much work, then I honestly dont care about my grade (provided I get a mark high enough so the university doesnt have to start caring about it).
     
  13. Apr 12, 2005 #12

    Hurkyl

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    You can do more in lecture than sit and listen and ask questions too.

    I had little to no difficulty following any material in my courses, but I still went to lecture anyways. During lecture, I'd try to anticipate where the teacher was going -- for instance, when he's presenting a theorem, I'll try to anticipate and work out a key detail before he gets there. Or, sometimes he says something that sparks a tangential idea, and I'd try to work something out along the tangent.

    I got far more out of that, methinks, than simply listening.

    Of course, this was back in the days when I could pay attention to two things at once. (Or maybe it was back in the days before I realized I couldn't pay attention to two things at once... either way... :biggrin:)


    I never took notes, but as you might imagine, I often came out with a lot more written down than if I had taken notes. :biggrin:


    As for the importance of a grade... there is some correlation between your grade and how much you get out of a class.

    If you're getting a B because you did everything but only got a B grade, that shows that you don't fully understand the material, despite how much you think you do. There's a huge difference between being able to follow along when you read something and being able to apply your knowledge to a problem, and the B grade is indicating that deficiency. IMHO, if you "fully understand" something, you have no excuse for getting less than an A+, before the curve.

    If you're getting a B because you don't do everything, but get an A+ on what you do, you have a different problem. In one of the classes I've taken for work, we had a really good professor. He had just introduced a new technique, and then asked the class to apply it to a problem, and we had difficulty doing it. Then, he asks us to differentiate (2x+1)^3, which we could all do fairly quickly. He then makes the point "The only reason you could do that easily and you couldn't do the other thing is that you haven't done the other thing a hundred times in your life".
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2005
  14. Apr 12, 2005 #13
    i agree w/ everyone else that attending lecture is important.

    i took basic e&m during freshmen year and the professor was a horrible teacher. i learned very little from the lectures but i discussed more advance issues w/ him during office hours. on the other hand, quite a few people gave up going to lectures (didn't go to office hours either) and decided to study on their own. consequently they ended up doing considerably worse.

    <rant>on the other hand, this semester i'm pretty much skipping all of my diff eq lectures. i learned from mit's video lectures already. my diff eq professor is possibly the worst professor ever. i got 98% raw score on my last exam and the professor decided to rescale grades so that only 99-100% count as A (average was 75-80%). i guess if you ever get a professor like that, it's pretty much safe to skip. but keep in mind it's quite rare to get these kind of professors.</rant>
     
  15. Apr 12, 2005 #14

    mathwonk

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    I am grateful that MIT has made those videoed lectures available, but frankly if my lectures are as boring as the lectures from MIT I have witnessed, I am really in trouble. I know we have several professors who are WAY better than those highly vaunted MIT lecturers on there., Maybe it is the limitation of being videtaped, that restricts their activity and interaction, but those look really canned to me.


    By the way I did not say my bright student understands everything, he only understands those things he could understand out of the book. He is missing both the things I lecture that are not in the book and the few difficult matters in the book, that he cannot figure out. And of course those are the key issues. I do not grade on attendance, if he understood everything I would happily give him an A+, and point him to a better harder class where he could learn more. I have kicked out many of the best students I have ever had, if they were enrolled in my non honors class when they belonged in the honors class. There are few things worse you can do than aim lower than your ability.

    As to the point that many of my students are getting all they want, I agree entirely! That is my sad point! They are potentially excellent students who think they know all they need to know, and are declining to get a deep understanding or a really fine education. You say that is their choice, but my job as an educator is not just to provide the minimum knowledge they think they want, but to try to awaken the "intellect" of such mental molluscs before they get out of school and find out life requires all you can muster, not just getting by.

    Besides its more fun to do more work and more thinking.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2005
  16. Apr 12, 2005 #15

    mathwonk

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    Let me try once more to make a point, and if it seems discouraging it is not meant to be. We are limited in college by the low level of many of our students from presenting the material at as high a level as we want to. To really understand any scientific topic takes far more than we fit in. So if you set your sights on just making a 75 or 80 or 90 in one of these artificially easy classes full of weak students, you are doing yourself a disservice.

    If you want to be a physicist or mathematician, or well educated human being, you should be getting way more than is available in any but the most challenging super honors courses at most schools.

    If you think you have or might have the ability to be a scientist, and are limiting yourself to getting easy A's in non - honors courses filled with weak competition, you may have completely lost your chance before you even finish college.

    Time spent in college is precious. You will never again have a chance to just learn, often with someone else paying your bills, and to learn from some of the country's leading scientists or their students. Grab it!

    If your lecturers are short changing you, make a beef against it. Ask them what you need to know to work in your desired field and then ask that they provide it.

    Once I was at a top place, world famous as a research center, and I asked a passing professor, highly renowned, what he was planning to do in his course next semester. Apparently annoyed he answered : "well, differential manifolds, bundles, exterior forms, lie derivatives, spectral sequences,..." and he dropped a few more big words, apparently trying to scare me off. But I was not impressed. So I said:

    " Ok, you will give some definitions and build some machinery. Then are you perhaps going to give some applications of them?"

    Then he immediately brightened up, and said "yes, if I have time, I would like to do ..." and he ran through several things of interest to him.

    On that occasion I did not take his course, but later in a field closer to my own, a world famous professor i was chatting with actually asked me what topic I thought he should teach! So I told him, and thus essentially got to pick the topic of the entire semester, and got a tutorial from the world master of that subject, along with many other eager listeners.

    As I have told others here, "attention will get you teachers". The good student gets the best teacher, and in many cases even makes the teacher better.

    A famous professor I once knew, said when he was a student, he read the material the night before the lecture, then also went to the lecture to see what the professor would add. Try that some time in a hard course.
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2005
  17. Apr 12, 2005 #16

    Moonbear

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    I can't speak for physics classes, but I know when I lecture, even in introductory biology classes, I add in information that isn't always found in the textbooks. Textbooks are often outdated by the time they even make it to press, and I find it makes the class more interesting for both my students and myself if I present tidbits of current research on the topics we are discussing that day. Of course, my advanced classes don't have textbooks, we discuss journal articles, but that's another issue entirely.

    I also have to agree with what ZZ and mathwonk have stated about lecturers giving BIG hints about what material will be covered on exams. There are times when I even come right out and say, "This WILL be on the exam."

    To get the most out of lectures, it is good to review the readings before the class, then do the exercises after the class. If you can't follow what's going on the lecture, even if you are managing to pass the tests, it may indicate there is a problem in your understanding of some of the material. It may not be an issue in passing that class, but may wind up haunting you in an advanced class that expects you to have a certain level of background understanding on the material.
     
  18. Apr 13, 2005 #17
    Do you consider this beneficial for students? I've always thought thats the worst thing a professor could do. I don't like the concept of exams, it diverts the attention of the student to being able to answer fifty questions in one session rather than know ten essential ones forever.

    when you say to someone that a certain item will beo n the exam, don't you demean the importance of all other items that didn't get this special mention? I dont think an exam properly portrays the importance of topics discussed in classes. The student will cram the night before, maybe do well on the exam, but I can guarantee 90% of them will have no idea how to solve the problem if it were given at a later time.

    Breaking up exams into several (and I mean 3 - 4 x exams ) and testing cumulatively, would be more effective than lumping things together. Ofcourse this will be more difficult, but think of what your askin the student. You are asking of them to show that they have learned the things you taught them in class. If they have difficulty with this method, doesn't it effectively show that they arent learning?
     
  19. Apr 13, 2005 #18

    You should never loose a single class.
    It is very good practice to read the book to understand the concepts. As I'm in designing job I feel that it becomes very important to selfstudy the book. You can't manage the time to attend the classes anymore when you enter the practical life. I think you are right in preparing for the future. But remember not to skip a single class.
     
  20. Apr 13, 2005 #19
    If you are teaching college algebra, do you really want or expect your students to ponder the definition, accuracy and application of the arithmatic postulates? Theyre here to learn algebra, they will gain a much better understanding of more advanced material later on.

    .
    This is true, but let me ask you this, are you really competing with your classmates, or competing with your ability? Given a course in calculus, if you can complete and understand the material and get, say a B+, have you not beaten the challenge? If doing this is so mediocre, then why is the standard SO LOW as to someone who didnt understand it and got a C, or C- would still be considered on the same level, in your eyes?

    I agree the better student gets the better teacher, but more appropriately, the student makes of the class what he wants to. There are some great students who are just stuck with teachers who are incompetant.
     
  21. Apr 13, 2005 #20

    Moonbear

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    That all depends on how the exam is written. I test on the most important concepts, and telling students they will be on the exam is a pretty straightforward way of letting them know I think they are important.

    No, it emphasizes the importance of that particular item. It may be a key concept, that without understanding it, you won't fully grasp anything else. It helps the students know where to focus their efforts in studying. I don't do that for everything on the exam, just the most important concepts.

    Heh heh...I don't write multiple guess exams. Even when I have multiple choice, you really have to know what you're doing to get the answers on mine. And I do write my exams as cumulative exams. If you forgot the concepts from the first test, you won't be able to answer all the questions on the second test. Not everyone takes time to write a good exam though, so you're right, sometimes the tests are unbalanced in terms of what is tested relative to what is taught. A good teacher takes care to ensure an exam is representative of the material covered.


    That's the purpose of quizzes. Quizzes are a great way to 1) encourage students to keep up with studying throughout the term, not just cramming at the last minute, 2) to catch problems and give students feedback on their performance before they get to the large point-value exams, and 3) get students accustomed to your style of questions and to see what you think is important before the big exam.
     
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