It's not about bad students, it's about bad professors
From Slashdot today,
I'm working at a major university in the US, and have been charged with posting pod-casts of class lectures on the internet. The problem is whether or not posting the videos would allow students to skip class and just download the lecture, instead. I guess the problem is trying to strike the right balance between allowing good students to take advantage of this resource, but discourage bad students from staying at home all the time and watching all the lectures right before the exam.
Well, if the professor only lectures and does not invite any interaction from students, why would this make a student bad because they don't attend class and decide to watch or listen to the podcast at home??? I had and did not attend a few of these classes in college. Notes from another student were enough, particularly when the lecturer only worked from the book and did not provide any additional information on the topic beyond what could be read on one's own.
So I have to agree with a student who posted an insightful comment to the discussion of this post:
As a college student, I can only inform you about the conditions at my university, and in the classes I've taken. Also, IANAS (I am not a statistician) but I can say that a high percentage of the professors I've had, and the professors my friends have had, don't ask questions, or encourage any interaction from the audience at all. In fact, many I have frown upon it.
In stadium classes, for example, interaction has been deemed impractical. Most professors simply lecture, and people with questions are forced to wait until afterwards and scramble for the few moments the professor is cleaning up, or attempt to make office hours, which consist of a small hour or two hour window that usually falls during one of your other classes. In a class like this, what's the difference if the students are there or not? If they have questions, they just try to make office hours anyway.
In these large lectures it's not necessarily the professors who are bad, as the title of my post may suggest. This is an institutional practice problem. But there are many smaller classes, as the student suggests later in his comment, that are also the same format of the stadium class: no interaction. In these cases, I fault the professor. If you teach from the same PowerPoint each semester and don't involve students, it's an obvious problem with your teaching style if students don't want to come to class. Do your students a favor. Make your class sessions available as podcasts and don't complain when they don't attend.
I personally never formally prepare a lecture for my classes. PowerPoints don't work for me. I typically think about the session prior to class and might prepare an outline of sorts to make sure I don't forget to at least broach important subjects. Sometimes I make mental notes when reading their blogs prior to class to hit on particular issues which seem to be important to them or which they seem to be having difficulty writing about. But typically it's very off the cuff, tuned not only to questions from students and discussion among students, but their reactions (via facial cues and other indicators). If students seem engaged, I go deeper and spend more time (if possible). If they all have that glazed look in their eyes, I spend less time and move onto something else.
I think we could learn a lot if we did more to share our strategies for the "not" lecture. Anyone else want to comment on their teaching style?