What Should I Do If My Professors Don’t Teach?

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symbolipoint
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I did not mean to minimize the value of a good teacher and I fully understand the desirability of a good teacher. But as we all know some teacher are no better than poor books. Books are hardly outlines though and usually more detailed than an instructor's lecture. And yes a good instructor should work together with a book.
A good book is as engaging as a good instructor. It calls you back to it's pages and delivers enjoyment and you can always revisit it where the lecturer's words are lost forever.
Most was good, but not all of it.

Some books, some GOOD books, really are outlines for a course, although maybe too detailed, and maybe including a few things that the ordinary course might not need.
 
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After college, your success in your career(s) will correlate very strongly with your motivation and ability to teach yourself new skill sets. If you can only learn with the assistance of your teachers, then you need to take a serious look at yourself and evaluate your capabilities. If you are expecting everything to come easily then something is very very wrong.

Anything worth having is worth working hard for. If you want to be successful, then start working hard and don't rely on your teachers. It will set a bad trend for post graduate endeavors.
 
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... I should note that I’m also working this semester (15-20 hours/week).
That might say a lot. As someone who went to school part-time I was seldom prepared and tried to rely on my teachers, much as in high school. Didn't work for me.
 
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I'm over 60 and learning lots of stuff on my own, a lot through MOOCs. The best thing a good teacher at any level can do is to inspire people to learn. OTH , even Einstein needed help with the mathematics of General Relativity.
 
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My other post was deleted because it was felt it was not helpful. I will repost in some politically correct helpful way.
This is the norm in our college, so what we all do is read the book, watch youtube videos and make sure we have done all the problem sets and can redo them faster. Before one week or two going into an exam, I will redo all the problem sets very fast and based on memory and my general understanding that I have been building up.
Working with classmates is essential for some people, and even for me despite the social difficulties I would prefer it but I am not able to make the friends needed. So I rely on myself. There are plenty of resources nowadays to learn..I do not think anyone becomes a physicist or engineer or scientist without having to ability to suck it up and self learn.

So I would advise that you find some classmates and work on problem sets assigned, read the book (have you tried?), and then a week or two before the exam make sure you can do all the problem sets without any help. You will pass the exam for sure if you do this, even get the top grades if you have worked and learned deeply.
 
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This is the norm in our college, so what we all do is read the book, watch youtube videos and make sure we have done all the problem sets and can redo them faster. Before one week or two going into an exam, I will redo all the problem sets very fast and based on memory and my general understanding that I have been building up.
This seems to hint at memorization, and I think that is counter productive in the long run. Let me suggest an alternative. When you re-work a problem, change the problem statement slightly, so that is is no longer quite the same problem. Be sure that you can think through exactly why you do each step. Memorized solutions will rarely serve you well, either on an well-constructed exam or in life.
 
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This seems to hint at memorization, and I think that is counter productive in the long run. Let me suggest an alternative. When you re-work a problem, change the problem statement slightly, so that is is no longer quite the same problem. Be sure that you can think through exactly why you do each step. Memorized solutions will rarely serve you well, either on an well-constructed exam or in life.
That is a poor interpretation of the spirit of my post, I have specifically mentioned that I use my memory and general understanding that I have been building up and do them alone, by doing I mean actually working the solution without any help, and of course, if I get stuck I read the book and go back to the theory. I would say the spirit of my post is that.
The exam is a performance much like a speech or a presentation, the time leading up to the exam is the time to practice and develop your performance, hence one or two week before all exams, I redo all the problem sets to make sure I am able to understand and feel confident, speed is a factor. In our college unfortunately the professors always try to create a time pressure which means one must be very fast. All of our grade comes from one single exam.
Lastly You cannot do many problems in electrical engineering (my major) with rote memorisation, definitely not the problem sets or even the problems in regular books, it is just impossible! Hence I am amused why you think I am suggesting rote memorisation.
 
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  • #83
Charles Link
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That is a poor interpretation of the spirit of my post, I have specifically mentioned that I use my memory and general understanding that I have been building up. I would say the spirit of my post is that:
The exam is a performance much like a speech or a presentation, the time leading up to the exam is the time to practice and develop your performance, hence one or two week before all exams, I redo all the problem sets to make sure I am able to understand where I am, speed is a factor. In our college unfortunately the professors always try to create a time pressure which means one must be very fast. All of our grade comes from one single exam.
Lastly You cannot do many problems in electrical engineering (my major) with rote memorisation, definitely not the problem sets or even the problems in regular books, it is just impossible! Hence I am amused why you think I am suggesting rote memorisation.
@K Murty I like your approach of not being afraid to go back and review something you already solved. IMO, this is one of the keys to academic success= When you look over the subject matter enough times that you can practically do it in your sleep. :)
 
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Wrichik Basu
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This seems to be a worldwide issue: professors not teaching well.

In Kolkata, we are currently facing a lot of trouble in colleges. Kolkata has many reputed universities, like Presidency University, Calcutta University or Jadavpur University, to name a few. However, the quality of education has fallen down to the grass roots level in many cases (not all). One of the many reasons is that, the good professors are leaving these universities and joining IITs or such reputed institutions. This is, in turn, dependent on other issues. The professors left behind mostly do not teach well.

However, we have a great facility: the NPTEL or National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning under the Government of India. NPTEL records lectures of professors from IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), IISc (Indian Institute of Science) and IISERs (Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research), and makes them available for the public (worldwide) without any cost. As a result, students who could not join these reputed Institutes, can still access lectures by reputed professors. Moreover, in case of queries, if you contact the professors through e-mail, most of them answer your queries.

Many of my seniors go to college just to keep up attendance. Thy sit in the last benches and attend lectures from NPTEL. I must say that the lectures are of very good quality. NPTEL also helps high school students like me, whose schools have absolutely bad teachers.

However, practicals are a problem, and I don't have a solution for that.
 
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I have not read over this whole thread.. 5 pages.... anyway, Wrichick ... I tend to agree.... Many / Most professors teach as part of their requirements to do research. They have had little to no training in how to educate, and frankly may not care.

The scary part is -- here in the USA some of the BEST respected Unis - DO have progressive educational programs, I have seen MIT, VT, GT programs - with good practical ( hands on ) approach and still a very rigorous academic basis - so this is not about the highest levels do not have room for solid educational theory... but then some have not changed in 30+ years... books - for 3 years.... then a Sr project... pretty horrendous IMO.

On the professor side - educating people well requires:
- A Desire to educate them ( you will not do anything well unless you want to!)
- The ability to discuss or present material in different ways.
- The attitude that you are helping them - and at times they will actually help you, being intellectually challenged by others is enlightening.
- It is valuable and important that not every student is the same - and if they have the aptitude, we all benefit by them getting the best education possible.

I have a son in a very well respected state uni in the USA (meaning they have a very high hiring rate - but they also have an old school weed-out mentality) and I am - well beyond disappointed. He had an interview the "dream' internship, a recorded video, and the question was about "A project"... he is a Jr and has not had one - he had to discuss the work he has done on his car.

Employers do not care about how book smart you are - they care if you can apply the theory to the real world and get things done.
 
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Hence I am amused why you think I am suggesting rote memorisation.
Speaking personally, I always found re-working old problems to be extremely boring. I hate to work any problem twice if I think I have done it correctly. But then, if you find this all amusing, .... to each his own.
 
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When I was at MIT many years ago winning a teaching award in a particular special program was a "death knell" for the teacher involved. When I left the prior 13 faculty who had won Teacher of the Year award in this program had each been denied tenure. One can witness the results when one looks at the video courses of 18.01 (Calc I) and 18.02 (Calc II). (Mattuck is better in 18.03, Diff. Eq.) The explanations in 18.01 frequently are not correct, and in 18.02 he is dull as hell. (I was checking these out to see if they would be appropriate for my homeschooled kids.) When I was there the other students frequently went to me, even during the professor's office hours. When I asked them why they didn't go to him (I was taking the class at the same time) they told me they could understand my explanations but not the professor's.

Also, be careful about attending classes where the professor/grad student makes mistakes and needs to be corrected (for their answers to come out correctly). (This happened in my recitations for 18.03 (Diff. Eq.) where the lecturer hadn't worked out the homework problems and needed help to finish them, as well as University of Maryland (where I got my doctorate)). They invariably got upset and I found it more helpful to just avoid the classes.

I also had an experience at MIT where there was no text, illegible lecture notes, and a lecturer recently arrived from India whose English was difficult to decipher. It appeared to be a very interesting class, however, since a number of fascinating number theory results were to be derived in class. The day the first interesting result was to be presented, however, he "derived" some trivial results and then "obviously" the result we were all waiting for was true. I tried to figure it out for 2 minutes while he kept on lecturing, and then finally said I didn't understand how the result was true. He was embarrassed and said he had hoped no one would catch him, since he couldn't figure out how the result was derived either. I immediately left and dropped the class. Obviously don't stick around for a class like this.

These are examples of the levels of bad teaching I have dealt with. How you deal with it, then, depends on the level of incompetence.

As far as how to get around bad teaching: Most books either teach the theory well but have a paucity of examples, or teach you how to apply it and are weak as far as the theory. I know that using a good theory book with a good problem book works wonders. For example, when I used Kleppner and Kolenkov for basic theory, the problems seemed difficult. But then I did relevant chapters in a physics book from the Schaum's Outline series (College Physics) and all the K&K problems became (almost) trivial, since I had already seen a similar example in the Schaum's book. (While the Schaum's didn't use calculus, it was obvious what the calculus-based formula was from the K&K.)

I hope this is helpful.
 
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The concept of Tenure - was derived to protect the free thinking of researchers that, per review of their piers, was deemed to be valuable. Basically - those with a track record of good research should be allowed to continue without fear of loosing their positions if they think or discover something controvertal.

It really has nothing to do with teaching -

And then there is the issue of teaching - when only < 5% of the people were able to attend college, you would seek out the most learned people, and the professors that had been granted tenure were the most sought after. If they were not good teachers ( or just not good for how you learned), then you would leave; you were there to learn from them, they were not really there to teach you. But today - 65% of the new jobs in the USA require a college degree, the researcher -> professor -> educator -> tenure model does not help the system for educating a majority of the population. Not to mention if 20 or 30% of the 5% dropped out - it was already an exclusive group, it was not an issue, but today we can not afford to have 20-30% of the admitted students drop out - not to mention the debt these students are left with, yet the Unis are perfectly happy to take the money with very little incentive to ensure you succeed!

Then add to this the bureaucratic culture at many / most universities - patently resistant to change, we (IMO) have what is tantamount to a crisis. We have a majority of the population needing to be educated, and a system designed to be exclusive, and they feel absolutely just in that opinion.

We perhaps need to divide the research functions and the educational functions here. I see very little value and not the proper skill set - in requiring a mathematics post-doc to be a TA in teaching Calc 1 & 2..... that is NOT why they are spending 4 years at that institution. IMO about 75% of the Undergrad program should be taught by professional educators - and the upper level major related classes be taught by the tenured professors. However, so far, when this model is being applied (use of non-tenured educators), the Unis seem to think these educators are not worth anything and pay them much less than a typical primary teacher. Unfortunately the whole revenue stream for the Unis is based on the research money as well ( now grants are the primary factor in Tenure determination vs thinking, quality of research etc.) - so the business model is also just wrong.

A good educator - has "very particular set of skills; skills acquired over a very long career" - these skills allow an educator to reach students in a variety of ways and they are interested in the students success ( not the same as passing them along!) - ah - just a rant, the system is too big to change, it can only be disrupted hopefully by some schools willing to do it differently...
 
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