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What is the point of professors and lectures

  1. Nov 17, 2013 #1
    I have been taking a whole bunch of online courses for a couple of months now, some of which are more challenging to me than others. I don't watch the lectures because they take too long, I usually just stop the video and click on the subtitles to read the slides. Even then I sometimes fail to pick up what I am looking for. If there are concise notes or formula sheets I will refer to those instead (online textbooks are hard to use and don't get to the point) but the lecture thing makes me wonder, what are lectures for, and why are they more helpful to people than books or notes or formula sheets alone?

    One reason I think many people would give is that the professors are supposed to describe to you the intuition of the problem. What does this mean? Why can't they just give me the freaking equation? If I have the equation and a few definitions for what each part of it stands for I will usually be able to figure out how to use it. I just think about it for a while and imagine it in my head to get an idea of how to use it. See, I usually figure out my own way of figuring out problems, and I often get them right which always surprises me. Is that unusual that I can do that? Am I delusional for thinking I can pick up the 'intuition' this easily? Is it normal for people to require to hear a professor say it in order to understand it, or need to work with other people to understand it? If I hear it in spoken words it doesn't register or encode into memory correctly for me, I think it may be because I am autistic but I imagine there are a lot of autistic physics people and they don't seem to have the problems I do in a classroom setting with having to hear people talking in order to receive a license to use certain intellectual faculties?

    If I don't understand material well using lectures and especially suffer troubles if I hear it and it goes into my audio memory does that make me severely mentally disabled and therefore not cut out for a career in academia???
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 17, 2013 #2
    To get you to understand that physics or any science is really something beyond figuring which "freaking" equation applies to a given problem.

    If there is anything wrong with education it is that students get the idea that science is figuring out which equation belongs where .

    The problem with online courses is that it doesnt hold your feet to the flames that much so it breeds overconfidence like the people think they understand QFT but just not the math details because they saw a few one minute physics videos.
  4. Nov 17, 2013 #3
    Yes I know, that is clearly the reasoning behind such a pedagogical approach. I propose, however, that I am of a different learning style, and I find the long drawn out lectures to be most inefficient insofar as helping me to get done with coursework that is worth grades (and I find weekly homework assignments to be quite debilitating because of enforcing that search-equations-get-it-done-screw-deeper-thinking approach).

    The professor is supposed to describe it in a way that helps the student to understand it, but in my case I am perfectly capable of thinking and understanding it on my own. Burying the equation into the lecture so that I actually have to spend so much time to watch it however takes away from that time to ponder it on my own, and the way a professor states it is not compatible with my mind, I have to have my own highly visual mind explain it to me. Which means I need to pretty much figure it out on my own, or do it in a way that I get the feel that I have anyway.

    I find walkthroughs on how to do the problem to be helpful, but sometimes they don't give you these. They help me get my confidence because I have an irrational fear of getting problems wrong.
  5. Nov 18, 2013 #4
    The solutions is easy. If you don't think lectures help you in some way, then don't go to lectures. Or work on something else during the lecture. If you are smart enough to figure it all out yourself and if you don't need a lecture to help you, then all power to you! Other students, however, do find lecture to be somewhat helpful.

    You are just going to have to get used to it. The higher you go in science, the less the answers will be presented in a handy walkthrough. Dependence on such walkthroughs can be a bad thing, and if you want to be a mature scientist, you will need to come to terms with your fear. And don't worry too much, even the best scientist has made mistakes.
  6. Nov 18, 2013 #5
    I don't mean a walkthrough for every problem I mean just for basic problem types so I get the picture of how it's done. I have a very flighty ADHD mind (even with medicine, I can only take microdoses and even then I can still get panic attacks) so I need it to be presented concisely or I will get lost in trying to search for it.

    It's nice not to need a lecture and all but I kind of suffered in community college and had to quit because lecture attendance was mandatory. It burns up all of my energy and eats up all of my time for studying and stuff. The enforced social element is particularly hard on people with high functioning autism, and I wasn't able to get such services set up in time. Even filling out forms for test time extensions for being ADHD requires you to not be ADHD (executive function disorder) in the first place in order to be capable of filling them out, and it seems ridiculous anyway that I'm disabled, aren't the other kids MORE disabled since they are less intelligent and require lectures to learn? That last semester I was afraid of getting a B in the class by doing all the required homework and labs and lectures and getting high Fs and Ds on the tests, which is unusual for me usually doing bad for me meant an A-, a B, a C at the worst and that was without studying or doing more than required homework.

    Because of my autism I have a long term memory with the shelf life of bismuth (which has a half life longer than the age of the universe by the way) which obscures the fact that I'm probably really a slow learner? I mean, isn't college designed with the idea that people forget most of what they learned in high school? I got an A in the chemistry and physics classes first year without doing homework or studying because I remembered EVERYTHING from high school (the classes should have presented new material but... didn't... oh, except I learned what a 'rubber policeman' is)
  7. Nov 18, 2013 #6
    You should try to get to a stage where you don't need walkthroughs for basic problem types anymore. Such a thing is useful for basic physics classes, but it won't fly anymore for advanced classes. Let alone the fact that you can't really classify solutions and problems into basic types.

    You can always study during the lecture.

    A college degree means that you're capable of something. A physics degree means that you're capable of being a physicist. You can't be a solitary physicist. Even though many don't think of science as a social thing, it actually requires people to be quite social. You'll need to be able to work in groups and communicate. I respect that this is difficult for you, but it is something you absolutely need to learn anyway.

    I don't really know where you got the idea that it was ok to forget everything of high school. If you could pass your course without studying, then you picked a course that was too easy. You should try to pick challenging courses in which you actually do learn new stuff.
  8. Nov 18, 2013 #7
    The intuition or the motivation behind a theorem, proof, formula, or concept, is really the most important point.

    For example in calculus, a limit comes from using the epsilon-delta definition and proof. This tells you how and why the concept of a limit is true, and logically sound. This had to be developed before the equations that followed.

    For without this intuition/motivation the equations do not exist in the first place. The higher you go in mathematics and physics the more relevant this becomes. Why should you believe those equations if there is no reason, logic, or proof behind them?

    Human civilization as a whole has spent thousands of years developing and refining the ideas, it is probably worth listening to why and how. In order to make advancements as a scientist, it is logical you should probably know how to refine future ideas, otherwise how can you possibly hope anyone will take your concepts seriously.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2013
  9. Nov 18, 2013 #8
    For me, understanding any kind of concept is trivial, provided I can settle my mind enough to read the material and pay attention to it (and model it inside my head to explain the stuff that doesn't make sense upon first glance), and since it is so the main trouble is making sure I have the method of solving the problems burnt well into my head so I don't make small but costly mistakes. I only need walkthroughs, well, solution sets to problems to teach me what kinds of mistakes I make so I can work on those. I have a bad habit of doing half of the problem in my head, see. I worked through quite a few chapters of Schaum's differential equations in one day, but I made a lot of little errors unless I made sure to write out the steps. Making sure there is a constant on that side that is integrated so that it gets multiplied by that e factor on the other side seems to be a blind spot in my mind's eye, but if I write the steps down then I have an astounding success rate.

    You think I had the OPTION of taking harder courses? At the first school, that was the hardest chemistry course they had, I was in fact the only student who got an A (well an A minus... I hate labs, so my performance in that part was mediocre), which is why I took out a loan and transferred to that other school to take some (basic) physics classes. I felt so cheated at how easy the physics class was, believe me you WILL learn more from taking the online version from MIT, if you give it enough effort. I could even figure out problems I had never really done before in the time given to take the exam, if I lost any points it was for not drawing a diagram as instructed. They also made me take calc 1 again, which was too easy of course, but they didn't offer credit for it at the crappy high school I went to and they won't let you test out of anything higher on the math placement exam at that school... still got only an A minus anyway because too many errors... seriously, sometimes I make errors for copying the problem down wrong when it is RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ME. Can you believe my surprise when I moved and transferred back to some other community college and I was actually getting D's on the tests? Well a D was still above the class average, again I made too many stupid errors and electromagnetism wasn't as strong for me as mechanics, then again given how I understood the Lorentz force well enough to contemplate cosmic ray bending devices... I actually don't know why it should have been hard. Looking back, it should have been really easy for me even then... anyway that's why I left school, so I could study more challenging material on my own. And I have studied quite a bit since then, particularly mathwise. I taught myself the rest of calculus, linear algebra, differential equations and a little bit of analysis, as well as a little bit about a lot of other topics, I don't think I've been studying enough given I've only taught myself that much in two years, I really need tips on how to concentrate better, I'm even considering taking the GREs and just going straight into a grad program if possible, taking graduate level classes through extension is out of the question since financial aid won't cover it unless you are officially enrolled and I will never be able to afford $1,000 per class even if I do get SSI (my poor concentration ability makes me unable to hold a job and go to school at the same time, or even study while going to school as already demonstrated, I tutor but that only makes spare pocket money for buying the expensive foods I need to eat in order to not get panic attacks from the Dexedrine pills I am prescribed to optimize studying).

    Yes, the only reason scientists must 'work together' is because anybody who comes up with an original idea will be laughed out of the community for being a crackpot unless others are willing to back it up. Communicating ideas is one thing, but I don't see why I must come up with ideas in collaboration, since when I discuss things with others they like to ignore and marginalize me and they tend to think in a very lobotomized sort of way and the entire idea produced by the meta-organism that is the group is homogenized to the lowest common denominator; this phenomenon is known as 'groupthink'. I can work one on one if it's a person that I work well with, that doesn't patronize me (as often happens because people think they can because I'm 'autistic') but ideas for me must be developed inside my own head. They may transcend the understanding of others though, and sometimes cannot be communicated in the scientific vernacular, which may undermine the beauty or even destroy the true meaning or point of such ideas.
  10. Nov 18, 2013 #9
    Yes I know it's important to know how and why calculus formulas are developed, but hearing it in a professor's voice and words is only going to make it seem a lot harder to understand (for me anyway) than it actually is. To make an analogy, the frequency of the lecture is not at the right wavelength to excite my mind, and actually works like destructive interference to my thoughts. I can read it easily from a book (provided I'm patient enough to read the entire involved formulation, and if I'm not then there is no way I'm patient enough to get it out of a lecture). Plus if I just look at the formula and think about it long enough I tend to somehow pick up on what it's for and why, or I imagine what the motivation behind it might be anyway... am I delusional for thinking I can pick up on such things so intuitively?
  11. Nov 18, 2013 #10


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    This could be a combination of several things. You could just have a boring and/or terrible professor. It also could be that lecture formats really are not best for your particular needs.

    Be careful with this mentality. There are loads of great material in books, but sometimes, there are useful little heuristics and bits of folk-lore that never get written down. Or sometimes they just do not translate well to written text. If your sole source of learning is via textbooks and online sources you will miss out on all of this.
  12. Nov 18, 2013 #11


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    Yes, you are.

  13. Nov 18, 2013 #12


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    And Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why we continue to get people who post their HW/Coursework questions and then started of with the claim that they don't know where or how to start!!

    It amazes me that there is still that mentality, that all you need is an equation, and then it is just plug-and-chug. OK, what if I give you Gauss's law (look it up), and then I give you a line charge distribution. Now go ahead and find me the E-field at any field point.

    In that example, the equation does NOT tell you how to solve that problem. It doesn't tell you that you can construct a Gaussian surface. It also doesn't tell you the GEOMETRY of that Gaussian surface that you should construct to make solving that equation EASIER!

    A professor that actually spends time telling the student what he/she thinks in trying to approach a question is an extremely valuable teacher! He/she doesn't have to do that. In fact, most won't! Most will simply dive in and do the problem. They don't tell you "OK, when I see something like this, the first thing I think of is such-and-such, because doing this, it makes the problem simpler to solve because of so-and-so...." Very often, just knowing where to place the origin of the problem can mean the difference between a simple, one-page answer versus a 4-page convoluted solution! But that requires intuition, something that isn't contained in "equations"!

    It is discouraging sometime to see, of all things, a complaint like this. Some people just don't know a good thing when they see it.

  14. Nov 18, 2013 #13
    There's far more to physics than being given a formula and seeing when to use it. Maybe that'll help you as a student (and for most, that's a gigantic maybe), but that does little for a career physicist. The little heuristics and anecdotes about methods to approach problem solving are incredibly important, and it is truly rare that a textbook adequately expresses these things.
  15. Nov 18, 2013 #14


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    I don't mean to be critical but it seems to me that you have a habit of severely over-estimating your abilities. You have yet to study even the most basic of advanced mathematics and/or physics (yes I really do mean basic of the advanced) so I think you should hold off on making positive self-assessments regarding your physics/math abilities until you have gone much farther in your academics. At this point I would have to agree with ZapperZ that you are quite delusional. You will be surprised by just how difficult problems can get once you reach the higher echelon of physics and math (heck a good honors mechanics/honors EM class will itself contain a slew of problems capable of initially defeating students in one fell swoop) so you shouldn't be so premature. Good luck with your studies.
  16. Nov 18, 2013 #15

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    You are saying a number of remarkable and remarkably self-contradictory things: for example, listening to lectures is not only not helping, but actually making it worse. On the other hand, you need the lectures to provide walkthoughs. I am prepared to believe either statement, but not both simultaneously.

    As far as a career in academia, I don't think you are tempermentally suited for one. It is *not* as you describe it (and your perspective from someone who has attempted community college and as left it is not better than someone who is actively involved in it), and your claim that you are smarter than those around you and don't need to collaborate is incredibly off-putting. And you will need to collaborate, trust me.
  17. Nov 18, 2013 #16
    What I can agree with you on is that some course work encourages mastering plug and chug. I spent my entire undergrad "mimicking the form" and made pretty good grades at a hard school doing it. I could mimic the form on complex problems like using Gaussian surfaces for Emag problems like Zz mentions. As long as I had seen a couple of problem close to the one given I could generally solve it.

    The problem is you don't learn anything doing that. The difference between us is I didn't want to just mimic the form but my top priority was making good grades. So if keeping up with four/five classes worth of homework and tests meant I didn't have time to fully understand that is what I did.
  18. Nov 18, 2013 #17


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    No, don't worry about it. Lectures are useless to some people. Figure out how you learn best and go with that. If it's books, then make sure you seek out books with good problems and that you work all the important ones. It's easy to fool yourself into thinking you understand the material if you don't actually work hard problems.

    So, do you understand calculus? Go through Apostol's Calculus I & II and work all the problems. That will tell you if you've learned it.
  19. Nov 18, 2013 #18
    jgens - Lecture formats are terrible for my needs, yes. I have also had some terrible professors, but I have watched videos from great professors, still doesn't work. If the lecture is a video with subtitles, then I MIGHT be able to follow. And they need to write that all down anyway. Spoken words don't translate well period for me, I am practically what you might call "brain-deaf".

    ZapperZ - First of all, I would use Coulomb's law to figure that out, not Gauss's law (unless I were calculating charge, but, um, you mentioned field). To anybody who understands Coulomb's law for a single point charge as well as integral calculus, it is a trivial matter to deduce that the electric field at any point can be modeled as the sum of contributions from an infinite distribution of infinitesimal point charges along the infinite line, each with charge rho*dl (rho being the linear charge density, dl being the differential element of distance). The geometry of such a charge distribution is obviously cylindrical, so cylindrical coordinates are easiest to use. Integrate from infinity to negative infinity, thinking of each of those differentials as a distance given by Pythagorean theorem sqrt(r^2 +z^2), and you get the equation for the electric field of an infinite linear charge distribution given a linear charge density and it decreases with r rather than r^2, but charge density is in units of charge over distance so dimensional analysis puts it in the same units as the point model. Oh and multiplied by two since the integral from infinity to negative infinity can be broken down to two integrals from infinity to r (z=0). It sounds a whole lot harder to me if a teacher says it though, I had to read it out of a book and work it out in my head and come up with an explanation that makes sense to me.

    MuloaTau - I get it by now, normal people are helped out immensely by that. They will still get the problems wrong though if they don't know the equations. Oh and I need more than the equations, I need all the variables explained and defined otherwise I have to go on a wild goose chase to Wikipedia or other places to find out what everything means.

    WannabeNewton - Define the most basic of advanced mathematics/physics please? Just because I didn't pay a university to hear a professor say it doesn't necessarily mean I haven't studied it. If you would please explain to me what you find most difficult about mathematics/physics, just to pick your brain a little, I'm merely stating that my greatest trouble is inability to listen to lectures and not knowing the equations. What good is a mathematician/scientist that doesn't know any equations or how to do any problems? It's not all 'memorization', I can't even memorize it unless I understand it. For example, instead of memorizing the derivatives for cosecant, secant and cotangent I just memorize the derivatives for sine and cosine and the quotient rule and I do the quotient rule to find the derivative of 1/cos, 1/sin or cos/sin. Oh and I would like to see some of these honors mechanics and EM problems. I had been reading an ebook on engineering statics and I was able to figure out many of the problems without even reading the text on how (I checked the back to make sure I got the problems right), it was that intuitive. And yes I skipped the preliminary chapter on basic classical mechanics review if you were thinking it was just those I got right. I also got 35 on the ACT for math but then I know of a really dumb person who got a 36 so I don't hold that in high regard.

    Vanadium 50 - I didn't say, or mean to say anyway, that I need walkthroughs provided in the lectures. I can't follow a walkthrough in a lecture, the social environment of a lecture switches off the mental mode I need to be in in order to effectively study, and the walkthrough will look SOOOO HARD when it's something I could pick up in a few minutes to an hour if I just looked at it on my own. A walkthrough provided on paper, or in lecture slides that can be viewed without listening to the lecture is fine, but often it's not descriptive enough.

    I always viewed science, especially mathematics as a form (the highest form) of art; what you're saying is that it is actually more of a form of business or politics. I have recently been offered a deal of sorts for, uh, other talents, and I can state with reasonable certainty that the only reason I am not currently a published author or artist is because I have been studying all day every day (except during the days I am forced to work on the art program) for the past year instead of just drawing the pictures or writing a story and getting it done. I know, it doesn't make much sense since I could just finish it and then have money to pay to go to a decent university that doesn't require one to sit inside a lecture hall except during the tests (WHO gets a job in art to pay for college? People go to college to get a job to pay to support their art as a hobby because art jobs are hard to get!) but I really have no passion for art or writing despite being better at it and for longer than math or physics. Those are just poor people's talents that poor kids do and become good at because crayons are cheap and they are too poor to afford musical instruments or science camp. Being a cello virtuoso will get you into Harvard; being a MS Paint virtuoso (yes, I am a MS Paint virtuoso) will get you into an art school and they don't have physics programs at art schools. The only pictures I like to draw are pictures of science related stuff, same for the types of stories I write. Or am I delusional, do I need to 'collaborate' with someone else in order to paint a picture or write a book?

    I'm sorry if I sound off-putting or stuck up, I'm really not, that's just what my experience with other science people has been like. My first university physics class (the one I aced) was full of engineering majors that were fresh out of high school and had to retake trigonometry and precalculus even though they had calculus in high school. I hadn't had a math class in two and a half years, nor was I for the most part allowed to read any math books or otherwise exercise such skills, and I still remembered all of that and passed as high as the math placement exam would allow. Maybe it's just the two-bit schools that I went to, I could have easily gone to a better school if I was allowed...

    IGU - Yes, I understand calculus. I have gone through calculus books just to make sure I do and I do a few problems and quit out of boredom to move on to the differential equations books. I need to study analysis, you know proofs better. If I don't understand a hard problem it's usually because my mind's clipped out of rush.
  20. Nov 18, 2013 #19
    As ZapperZ already indicated, yes, you are. You do not know how academia works including the place of collaboration in science and you vastly overestimate your ability.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2013
  21. Nov 18, 2013 #20


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    Two things:

    1)You're delusional because you think the world owns you something.

    2)You're also delusional because you seem to lack the ability to grasp that lectures can be helpful to someone else (a lot of people) and fail to appreciate why they are often required at CC or low grade universities. Simply kids who don't go to lecture tend to not do their work and therefore get behind and fail. Does it suck sure, but don't want to go to lecture? Go to a better school. Want to go to a better school? Get better grades. That's all that has to be done, so the simple solution to your problem is to shut up and get to work. However, it seems as if you prefer to complain than work. Prove me otherwise and actually graduate, i'll email you a cupcake.
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