# Why are lectures topic based rather than problem based?

1. Aug 3, 2006

### Simfish

It makes lectures a waste of time. Anything you get from lectures, you can read in a book. Why can't professors do difficult problems instead in lectures, to make lectures actually WORTH IT TO COME TO? Does this have to do with the typical college student being not motivated enough to read the textbook by himself? *sigh* Many students just go by with what the teacher says, and doesn't read the content of the textbook.

Honestly, it's causing me to skip class.

2. Aug 3, 2006

### Mute

I'd have to disagree with you here (or rather, my opinion differs from yours).

I prefer the topic based lectures because when I do read the text, I tend to skim various parts and read only the bits that seem interesting, which means I may miss various points or subtleties. (It's usually only when I'm trying to solve a problem that requires such a point that I go back and read parts more carefully). Seeing as I have a habit of going to class all the time, the topic-based lectures essentially force me to take in all the material the professor presents and make good notes, which are a useful summary of the course material and are more efficient to review than the textbooks themselves.

As well, I tend to find (most) professors to be better communicators of the material than the textbooks - they certainly don't provide you with more information, but they can give you that information more clearly, especially if you have a particularly dryly written textbook. Textbooks are also constant in their teaching - they're written in a particular style, and you're stuck with it. Professors, though they may have a particular teaching style, tend to be more dynamic and can be more interesting to learn from.

Learning from textbooks is fine, but I prefer to use them as more detailed supplements to the lectures.

I would not prefer problem-solving lectures; I prefer to solve the problems on my own, and just watching someone do example after example tends to bore me. Even difficult problems would be dull - maybe the professor would have you work on a problem for a bit, and then would stop everyone and go over the solution. At that point, though, you're just copying down someone else's solution. I don't like that. I prefer to find my own solutions, and I don't like watching someone else solve a difficult (or rather, interesting) problem before I've completely gone through it myself.

Most of my classes seem to try to strike a balance between the two ideas; topic-based with examples (unfortunately, sometimes the examples can be quite uninteresting and almost too easy). More in-depth problems are done in separate tutorial sections.

3. Aug 3, 2006

### J77

Monkeys can learn to problem solve.

I'd even go as far as making material in lectures non-examinable.

Students could prepare for exams in time outside of lectures or in tutorial groups.

(This is typical of many Arts lectures.)

4. Aug 3, 2006

### Pengwuino

I don't remember a class where more then 2 or 3 questions could be done in a lecture. Some questions took 2 lectures to do when they actually tried to lecture on the questions.

5. Aug 3, 2006

### Mickey

My views are pretty radical on this, which is why I don't see anyone ever awarding me a doctorate.

I'm for the total disbandment of a regularly scheduled lecture time. Instead, there will be a schedule of "class hours," which students may attend whenever they wish, where the professor is obligated to attend, and will speak about whatever it is the class wants to talk about. It would be essentially the same as a professor's obligation to have office hours, only in a larger room to include potentially more people at once.

What would be required attendance, then, are one-on-one appointments in the professor's office. The student will receive personal feedback on his work and the progress of his studies. The professor will show him exactly his mistakes and give him an opportunity to correct them by assigning extra work focused in these areas. This work will be optional, effectively allowing the student a freedom of choice over his grade level (do the work until it's right or accept being mediocre). Those who are already doing well will be offered advanced work for credit in another course. Students who would want to finish the course in a shorter amount of time would be able to. Students who would want to finish the course in a longer amount of time would be able to.

Lectures as we know them will be an artifact of the past, archived instead as digital webcasts to watch, fast-forward, rewind or completely ignore at a student's discretion.

Last edited: Aug 3, 2006
6. Aug 3, 2006

### oksanav

Sounds good Mickey! My classes are always half lecture half problems, with the day before tests just problems, and some of the labs problem labs. I don't think I could stand just lecture. I think I'd kill myself. It's a totally unnatural way to learn for some people.

7. Aug 3, 2006

### 3trQN

Some lecturers are good, they engage you and they try to add their own insights and experience into the mix. This is something i value, its unique experience and valuble information.

Lecturers that read from the text should be sacked, shot and other nasty stuff. I dont pay to have someone read to me, my mother did that when i was 3 but i can read fine now thank you. I certainly wouldnt pay for the privelage.
Their information is valued at about $50, the price of the textbook. I think information is grown alot like a crystal, valuble stones are rare, near flawless and often unique. 8. Aug 3, 2006 ### mathwonk i guessi was lucky and had good lecturers who made the material clear and even exciting. but when i got poor ones i jumped out of that class and switched to a beter one even if it was harder. i found that it took me two or three times as long to learn by reading as it took to listen to a lecturer, so it actually saved huge amounts of time to go to lecture even if it semed otherwise. you have to realize too there are lots of different students out there, most who do no read anything in the textbook at the college level, and who will not even show up to office3 hours no matter how helpful they are. the most successfulk class i had was a graduate class one year with smart unsophistictaed students when i had only that one clas to teach. i presented a problem to be solved in each class, but a very hard and significant one, such as how do you tell if a polynomial has a solution formula in radicals? then we analyzed the problem and I tried to get th class to suggest ideas. when we finaklky understood the problem and had aplausible attack in my (guided by my prior knowledge of the answer) we woul be motivated to amke the relevant definition needed to study it, fields extensions, galois groups, .. this way the material was never presented dry, or unmotivated. still one of the brightest students refused to come to all the classes or do the hw in a timely manner and failed prelims on the topic. i got the blame for not making him work, but you cant force people to learn. 9. Aug 3, 2006 ### mathwonk also if you are at good school, the lecturers are much more highly qualified than the book authors in most cases. i remember lerning this as a young student browsing in a bookstore when i noticed the author was thanking my profesor for merely looking at his book before publication. elementary textbooks written by top researchers such as michael artins algebra are really a tiny minority of those out there in math. it just takes too much time away from research to write a book. Last edited: Aug 3, 2006 10. Aug 3, 2006 ### mathwonk 3trQN, maybe you should switch nito the honors class, because in a typical non honiors calc class today at many places the verage student cannot even read the book at all and understand anything. it is actally a useful exercise to read to them from it and explain what the sentences mean. very few calculus students realize that in a sentence like "if f and g are differenbtiable so is fg,a nd the deriavtive of fg at p is f(p)g'(p) + f'(p)g(p)." the first part, namely the hypothesis, is crucial. if asked to repoeat thiss entnece many wil say simply (fg)'(p) = f(p)g'(p) + f'(p)g(p)." thats all they get, if that. we have to try to help these students too. so dont shoot the piano player, as truffaut said, look for another gig. 11. Aug 3, 2006 ### jbusc When you get to the point of taking classes where the average homework problem takes 2-4 hours to solve, it's ridiculous for the professor to spend large amounts of time working on specific problems and not general concepts. Plus, if the professor solves all the problems, then you don't get any practice solving them yourself. Go to lecture for general concepts and techniques, try working the problems yourself, and when you reach difficulty go to the prof or TA and they will help you problem solve. I have found that some professors will even walk you through the whole HW problem in office hours. 12. Aug 9, 2006 ### Simfish First of all, different students have different learning styles. And lectures definitely do not accomodate for that. Some people just don't absorb lectures, they learn far better from the textbook [besides, the textbook is more rigorous than the lecture]. Even so, why do we need different professors to lecture? Why not just have ONE professor do a GOOD lecture, and then RECORD IT ONLINE for everyone else to watch? Then only ONE professor is wasting time [plus, then we wouldn't have to deal with all of these crap professors]. Questions can be e-mailed to a professor or spoken individually to a professor, rather than wasting class time [we still of course, would have homework assignments graded by TAs]. And for those students who still prefer class contact - let them register for a traditional course. What I'm advocating is - a pathway for those students who don't want to pay money to have a teacher talk AT them. And as for doing problems yourself - even if the lecturer does some problems, there are still PLENTY of problems you can do yourself. Furthermore, it can be taught as a problem solving course - students do problems before lecture, then they present their answers during lecture, instead of wasting time on crap that can be looked up in a textbook or MIT OCW online lecture. On the other hand, my rant probably concerns the introductory courses more so than the graduate level courses - where the lectures might actually be somewhat useful. Last edited: Aug 9, 2006 13. Aug 9, 2006 ### eep Physics isn't just about problem solving. Lectures allow your professor to present the topic to you as they see it, with the insight they've developed over the years of being exposed to it. Different professors are going to have different ways of approaching things. You can't really get that out of a textbook. 14. Aug 9, 2006 ### 3trQN Yes that is the ideal, but it is not allways the case. 15. Aug 9, 2006 ### nrqed But this is completely unpractical. If there are 20 people there and they all have different questions or topics they want to cover, what happens then? What if there are 30 students? What if someone has a question and after 5 minutes does not feel that he/she has been fully answered and the others are getting imaptient because they want to have *their* questions answered? How coudl that work with a class of even only 30 students? That would require at least an hour or two per week just meeting each student. If you include the time to grade and the lab time, a prof would end up doing a 100 hours week for a single class of 30 students. Imagine two classes (plus labs) of a total of 60-80 students as I usually have per semester. I can't imagine making this work. The assignments are meant to have people try to solve problems and the comments I write when I grade are what I am using to give feedback. I try to put enough comments to show exactly what their error is (either if it's bad algebra or it's deeper conceptual stuff). Maybe I could meet them individually to explain their mistake but then it would probably take more time for them to look at their own solutions and try to remember what they had done than to me to explain their mistake!! So I tell them to come see me during my office hours if they don't understand what they did wrong. This way, the ones who really are willing to improve themselves have plenty of opportunities to do so. Well, then why not put also solved problems on webcasts (done by a prof on blackboard)? 16. Aug 9, 2006 ### Simfish Furthermore, while textbooks do tend to be dry and boring, and usually less engaging than teachers, then honestly why aren't there more ENGAGING AND INFORMAL textbooks written? Rigor can be sacrificed for teaching style - after all, most students don't really go through proofs in their classes anyways. They can always use another textbook as a reference work. As for more engaging and informal textbooks, there are some of them that are just coming out, so there is some progress made on that area. Also, study guides often do a better job in explaining the material clearly and succintly than professors do. The only problem of course, is that as you go up to a higher level, the number of study guides decrease. But for subjects like intro level physics and calculus, they are numerous. == That being said, I still have yet to sample a really good upper-division course. 17. Aug 9, 2006 ### 0rthodontist I have had a couple professors who spent the bulk of time going through problems. Those were the worst courses I have ever taken. As mentioned by someone else, you can't get very many problems done in class. Second, watching someone do a problem on the board is far inferior to reading it in a book, especially if the board is frequently erased to make way for more symbols. The way to learn how to do a problem is to get an example that's written down, that's not going to change, and look at every step. If you have confusion at some point in the problem, then naturally you often need to look back at a previous part of the problem--easy to do in a book, somewhat more difficult if it's been erased and while you're shuffling through your notes the professor is already on to the next part of the problem. The exception is when the problems are entirely conceptual with little symbolic derivation. Conversely I find it much easier to learn material during a lecture than from a book. The pace of the lecture keeps you alert--you can't get distracted or you'll fall behind. Whereas with a book the pressure isn't there so there is a temptation to be lazy about figuring things out, which eats up a lot of time. I rarely read the book before coming to the lecture and this works very well. Lectures are good for describing concepts. Books are good for reviewing examples (and as reference, or if lectures aren't available). 18. Aug 9, 2006 ### Simfish Of course, the thing with lecture is that it does help speed up learning for students with certain learning styles. But what of students who don't benefit from lectures, or for those who often fall behind? I think that videotaping the lectures of a GOOD professor and then distributing them online is thebest idea. 19. Aug 9, 2006 ### mathwonk please sample my algebra books on my webpage. they are models of excellence, informal yet rigorous, humorous yet serious, intuitive yet precise, mathematical yet literary, hilarious yet thought provoking. hmmm? 20. Aug 9, 2006 ### 0rthodontist Yeah, that would be a good idea. I liked the differential equations lectures from OCW (of those that I watched). Worked examples there are helpful because it's like a book: you can rewind. The only problem is that you can't ask the professor questions if he's on a tape. 21. Aug 9, 2006 ### bomba923 Regarding the effectiveness of lectures...well, it varies between different types of students. Some students can gain skills/understand the material simply by perusing the textbook, while others may need extra assistance. But...why the problem? Isn't lecture attendance (in college, not high school) usually optional (unless mentioned otherwise)? 22. Aug 9, 2006 ### Ara macao Then you e-mail them to the professor, or visit prof during office hours. Because some professors are evil and want everyone to attend class, so then they cover some topics ONLY in class, without even posting them on the course website. And because it costs$.

23. Aug 10, 2006

### quasar987

Maybe in the future! :!!)

24. Aug 16, 2006

### mathwonk

well i just gave my first lecture today and it was very topic based. my thinking was i guess that it is up to the student to work the problems, not me, and if they cant do them to ask me. so i lecture on methods and theorems and the students should work all the details out as they read the notes, and any time they are puzzled they should make up exampels and try to work them. i.e. it is the job of the students to constantly measure their progress by making up and working problems. this is the way i was taught in grad school by the best teachers i had. it took me a long time to catch on to it.

i will work problems if i am asked but i am primarily concerned with explaining ideas. of course in real life this does not work outside the top schools aS THE STUDENTS DO NOT DO ENOUGH WORK ON THEIR OWN, and do not ask enough questions, but eventually perhaps they will learn to as i did. otherwise it is hard to get on the train , or to run with the big dogs.

25. Feb 1, 2009

### Mk

I had Calc Theory taught in this way at New College of Florida. It was the best class I ever took.

You say impractical? I saw it shine.