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What do you do when a class is so bad

  1. Feb 26, 2013 #1
    I really, really try to avoid blaming teachers and professors for bad grades.

    Having said that, this class is such a mess that I'm not sure what the right course of action is. I think the guy (A Phd. student) is probably in over his head. He is getting lost in class quite a bit - he hands out homework assignments where even the questions aren't phrased correctly. When we ask him to go over one of the problems he either doesn't do it, or attempts to do it and gets lost.

    The tests are open book, open notebook - and yet most of the class manages to fail them. The ones that are doing OK have either taken it before or another related class.

    "Ok," you're saying "This is one of those classes where you'll have to teach yourself from the textbook."

    Guess what? The textbook is riddled with errors and misinformation. The answers in the back for the problems are often incorrect. Often the *questions* are incorrect.

    I could learn from another book related to the subject - but his tests are based on what he does in the class, which are only marginally related to the error-ridden textbook. Half of my notes are scribbles and fixes - his, not mine.

    On the up side, if there is one, apparently this is a known "problem class" which the math department knows is a problem. If I apply for a grad program at my own school they are likely to forgive a poor grade.

    Of course - I really don't *want* a poor grade. I want to do well, not simply for grades sake, but because I'm genuinely interested in the topic. In fact I was very excited about learning it (probability - guess I should mention that) before class started. I had read several other books on the topic to gear up for it.

    This is mostly a rant. But advice/supportive suggestions would be appreciated.

    -Dave K
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2013 #2
    An obvious thing to do is of course get other textbooks and go through it. I know you said that the tests and homework are really the professor his own thing. But going through another good textbook can't really hurt much, can it?

    Another thing to do is to contact other students in the class and try to form study groups (either physically or online through mail). Maybe together you can handle this class better than alone??

    Also do try to make use of resources such as PF. Asking us for help in the probability section of the forum or in the homework form (if you have assignments), might help you. The questions might be poorly phrased, but people knowledgeable in probability might know what the professor means.

    The class is still going to be a struggle though, but I hope these things can help.
  4. Feb 26, 2013 #3
    I was unfortunate enough to be in the same situation for one course last year (atmospheric physics). It was also based on some notes from an earlier prof that were full of unforgivable errors, some arguments completely insensible, etc., which had little/no relation to any of the major textbooks I found on the subject. The phd student teaching it as a substitute really didn't know what he was doing either.

    In the end I had to force myself to learn how to do the problems (or more precisely working my way back from the "right" answer) and tried to memorize the theory for the exam, a frustrating experience but at least I passed. Wish I had chosen another course.

    If you're still able to do so, I'd suggest dropping the course for a proper one where you'll actually learn something (assuming it's not a required course/you have alternative groups to choose from).
  5. Feb 26, 2013 #4
    I took one REALLY hard course in grad school "Random Signals and Noise" and I ended up studying from four textbooks at once (really!) and only one of them was assigned. I was having problems making sense of the material but found that comparing four different treatments of the same subject helped a lot.

    It took a LOT of time but that is what you have to do to learn sometimes.
  6. Feb 27, 2013 #5
    I have a couple of other books right now, but yeah, he seems to have his own approach, and the test is based on that.

    I have at least one other person I am working with.

    You're right too. I think I need to use PF more for stuff like this, instead of bad math jokes, random thoughts and rant threads. lol In fact I'll put up a few problems tonight.

    -Dave K
  7. Feb 27, 2013 #6
    It's an elective course, but one I'm really interested in learning, and I have a really bad feeling that he's the only teacher for it right now. I think I will end up learning a lot, though I won't have much of a grade to show for it. That's great for learning, bad for grad admissions. (Unless I apply at my own school, which may forgive it.)

    Back to madly self-teaching...

    Thanks for the support folks.

    -Dave K
  8. Feb 27, 2013 #7

    Yeah, I'm up to three right now. Unfortunately I realized 2 that I took out of the library are non-calculus based probability, which is the stuff that I'm having trouble with...

    -Dave K
  9. Feb 27, 2013 #8
    I had a subject that I desperately wanted to take and it turned out the professor couldn't teach... and his random course notes matched no known textbook in existence. His marking was mostly based on whether you came up with exactly the same proof that he would have done. What made it worse is the course hadn't been offered at our school for many years and, with budget cuts, probably won't be offered again for quite a while. After much soul-searching, I dropped the class with the realization that I could learn the subject better on my own.

    Good luck with whatever decision you make!
  10. Feb 28, 2013 #9
    Looks like I'm going to do what I can with the notes I have... I've recopied them and tried to make sense out of them - fixed errors where I could find them, based on here, wikipedia, etc. (You know it's bad when Wikipedia is better than your textbook).

    -Dave K
  11. Feb 28, 2013 #10
    Wikipedia for science articles isnt that bad because they arent usually vandalized and they have been checked by a whole lot of eyes by now. It also seems to go through more drafts aimed at making it easier to understand and compact. Crowdsourcing can work.

    A textbook on the other hand only goes through the eyes of only a few people by the time a first edition comes out.
  12. Mar 7, 2013 #11
    Well, I hunkered down... Got up at 5:30 in the morning for about a week and a half to study. Went through all my notes and tried to make sense out of them. Fixed where appropriate. Did examples in the book and elsewhere. Carefully organized my notes complete with index (the test was open book and notebook) to different subjects.

    Did worse than on the first test...
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