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This semester, due to an increase of students enrolled, I was assigned to teach an introductory course. The course had been previously taught by two lecturers, who taught a different half of the course. The two do not know well the other half, so they developed the teaching material independently. This semester two lecturers were added and each of us teach the whole course.

It turns out that the slides for the second part are very superficial and contain some serious mistakes and omissions, and so do the tutorials. Mind that the errors are on basic definitions upon which the rest of the material is developed. Also the textbook is horrible because it is aimed at business students and is very wordy with many examples but little clear explanation and definitions.

I spoke to the lecturer in charge of the first part, who is also course coordinator, and we agreed that it was too late to change the slides and we would do something for the next year. However, the other lecturer must have been informed of my complaints and turned nasty to me, even though I have been careful not to criticise the person but only the material. Therefore, I really do not feel like helping them with comments and suggestions. Mind that it is not an ego problem here, I don't give a damn about proving my colleagues wrong, I only want to do my job and move on.

In any case, I have now to teach five weeks of material containing mistakes. Should I follow the material and teach wrong things or should I warn the students of the mistakes on the slides and teach the right stuff?

Personally I would prefer the second option (for ethical and selfdignity reasons) but that may create problems in the exam when students have to answer questions on the wrong defintions. Also, the students may be confused and the reputation of the course would be damaged. Lastly, I do not want to talk to the head of department now because it is too late and we all know what happens to whistleblowers.

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    I understand you might not have time to completely rework the course, but why can't you fix the errors on the slides (and any subsequent assessment)? – earthling Nov 3 '18 at 3:25
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    That wouldn't solve the problem bcecause I would be teaching different stuff from the others..Also, the coordinator insists that we teach using the same material for consistency. – Marco Stamazza Nov 3 '18 at 3:33
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    I don't see how being consistently wrong is a good thing. There is an ethical issue here. Misleading students is a serious breach. – Buffy Nov 3 '18 at 10:32
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    "that may create problems in the exam when students have to answer questions on the wrong definitions" - will marking be done by just you, by all lecturers, or by others? There is a very real problem here if students are studying with extra non-lecturer-provided materials (which we always hope they do), will they be counted wrong? If anyone other than just you will mark, you should make that very clear to the students in the lecturers as they will likely be lost in the conflicting information. – earthling Nov 3 '18 at 14:45
  • What field is this? Is it something as standardized in terminology as mathematics? – Buffy Nov 3 '18 at 15:11
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As a compromise, given you are staying with the existing slides, consider saying things like "For purposes of this course, the definition of X is [what the slides say] but many people use [more conventional definition]". That way, the students know what they should assume during the exam, but have been warned that they will see different definitions in the future.

In thinking about contributing to updating the slides, you would be doing it to help future students, not to help the instructor who wrote them.

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    +1 for "helping future students." That's why we do what we do. – Bob Brown Nov 3 '18 at 23:33
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Sorry, but I don't see room for compromise here assuming the case is fairly stated. It is an ethical issue about what is taught to students. It is not acceptable to "teach" them things that are known to be incorrect. No one should ever teach anyone things that they know will later need to be unlearned. You are positively damaging them and insisting that they absorb falsehoods in order to advance their careers.

Furthermore, it is an ethical violation to put a low level faculty member or lecturer in a situation in which this is required.

Being able to stand up to such idiocy is the precise reason that we have academic freedom in the first place, though, I suspect, little freedom is granted to you.

Letting such a situation go forward is wrong. Forcing you into the situation is also wrong.

Unfortunately, the solutions are painful. Probably the best outcome, if you can force change, is to ask the dean to relieve you of this course and that you have ethical reasons for needing this relief. That will probably blow back on you, though I hope not. In the best case it will force a wake-up in a place where it might be useful. But perhaps he/she can assign you other duties so that you don't have to participate in an ethical breach.

Maybe you should be the course coordinator.

Your objections are already known to some, at least. So you are already a whistleblower.

Note that I'm less concerned about the quality of the materials, than I am that definitions are being given that are incorrect. Students will be disadvantaged in future by having to learn these. I am also not concerned that the textbook is mostly examples rather than a more rigorous treatment. Examples are good, actually, if they lead you to correct reasoning. There are a lot of valid ways to use such materials.

  • You are absolutely right, also on this "That will probably blow back on you" :-) – Marco Stamazza Nov 4 '18 at 4:09
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This situation is so close to my own that I had to check that I was not in fact the OP. If the subject matter is, for example, introductory statistics for undergraduate students majoring in something else, such as business studies, or psychology, there is evidence that it is a subject that, when taught by non-specialists, is prone to major error.(See Haller and Krauss, 2002). I inherited lecture notes that were just wrong on certain issues (such as the interpretation of a p-value). In my university, I am pleased to say, that when I pointed this out (and gave references to show that it was not just my opinion) they said: we would never ask you to teach something that you believe to be wrong.

The key point, it seems to me is to be able to show in the way that academics accept, that is by citing references, that there are errors in the material that has been produced.

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It turns out that the slides for the second part are very superficial and contain some serious mistakes and omissions, and so do the tutorials. ... I spoke to the lecturer in charge of the first part, who is also course coordinator, and we agreed that it was too late to change the slides and we would do something for the next year.

Sorry, but I don't think that is a reasonable decision. If the slides contain serious errors, that are known to you, then you cannot reasonably continue to use them as materials for the students without correction. There is no such thing as it being "too late" to correct errors in teaching materials. At a minimum, you need to correct the errors in the slides you will be using. A broader improvement of the materials can wait until you both have time to rewrite it.

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    I'm often up until the small hours of the morning the evening before a lecture getting my materials right, so I initally failed to see the "its too late to change the slides" argument. But re-reading the question, its seems that the idea is that there are several lecturers giving the same classes from the same slides at the same time to different groups in parallel. I can see how, in that situation, there could be a time considered "too late". – Ian Sudbery Nov 4 '18 at 13:05

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