I've become quite upset with how lectures for my courses are conducted.

Everyday, I attend lectures where the teacher simply writes definitions and theorems on the board straight from one of our textbooks (or another professor's published lecture notes). They then prove a handful of the theorems, or part of them, and leave more than half as an exercise. They do little to motivate the material or provide insight based on their professional experiences, and are often scribbling material onto the board as fast as possible to cover some predetermined amount. And sometimes the professor writes proofs straight from their notes and, when questioned, has a hard time explaining the gaps between steps (as they are simply regurgitating and not really even attentive to what they are explaining).

Ultimately, I feel like these lectures are a waste of my time. To be blunt, I can read a book and I can do exercises. I don't need someone to paraphrase a book for me and then tell me to fill in the rest myself. Moreover, since I cannot afford to live on/near campus, I have to commute an hour each way to sit through such lectures, which hardly seems validated.

I would like to attend lectures where the professor engages the students. Often, my professors are so rushed to scribble things on the board that they take few questions and relegate them to exercises (yes, I had a professor answer a simple question about his proof by assigning it as an exercise). If an instructor wants to cover some predetermined amount of material, I would prefer they assign this as reading beforehand and then take questions on that material in class. It'd also be nice if they presented us with hard problems in class and then we all worked through them together (with students presenting them, everyone critiquing, etc.).

Should I approach my professors about my feelings? How should I go about this?

To be honest, I am becoming quite bored (and frustrated) and starting to skip lectures in favor of office hours (which are far more engaging), reading the book on my own, and working extra problems. I do not like that I am not enjoying my educational experience (since I love to learn math!).

Or should I quit going to lectures and move on to doing what I am tending towards now, anyways?

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    Re: On-holdedness: I don't see how this cannot apply to graduate students as well. Indeed, I have friends who are graduate students with similar complaints. They attend lectures at some point, no? Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 17:24
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    I'll go ahead and reopen this.
    – aeismail
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 17:41
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    If you can find the same syllabus on a book, I'd go with the book. I had the same type of lectures, but usually there wasn't a book available, in the cases where there was a book I was very happy for finding it. That means you can read as fast as you'd like, you don't need to take notes, etc. That saves a lot of time, you are missing nothing for not attending the lectures and in general is a big win. I got higher qualifications in those cases and I was very happy about the whole situation, but I'm not able to give an advise that is general to everybody (or you in this case), sorry for that
    – Trylks
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 21:09
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    I would prefer they assign this as reading beforehand and then take questions on that material in class. It'd also be nice if they presented us with hard problems in class and then we all worked through them together. This is known as a flipped classroom, and it's gaining a lot of traction. There's probably a faculty development office at your university, you might see if they've covered that. However, don't expect an overnight change: change in academia often happens quote slowly – as the saying goes: "one retirement at a time."
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 21:55
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    I feel that doing more problems will give me more understanding than listening to someone read Rudin to me. Great, then do more problems. What's stopping you?
    – fkraiem
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 8:15

6 Answers 6


This is a common frustration faced by college students, especially in lecture-oriented STEM majors. Unfortunately, the truth is that the lectures may be a waste of time and there is little you can do to change that. If you can cover the material more efficiently on your own time (especially since you're commuting), you shouldn't necessarily feel guilty in doing so. You can see similar sentiments expressed on ratemyprofessor where students often question the value of lectures and simply go to the library as opposed to lecture.

Yes you're paying for the lecture, but if it doesn't help/contribute to your understanding, there is no point in going. I knew students who went every time out of habit, but it was an absolute waste of time.

I've had physics professors who wrote starting problems on the board and then the solution only to say that if we were at his level, we should 'see' the dozen steps in between. Needless to say, lectures were fairly empty after that. He was very well versed in the material and many students would come to office hours, it's just that he couldn't lecture.

Depending on the age/tenure of the professor, they may be receptive to making the lectures more engaging, or they may "brush" you off. Simply express your interest in the subject to the professor and ask them to make the lecture more engaging/be better prepared. Depending on the college/class, the professor may be unable to accommodate you because your peers may not be at your level. Be aware that some professors cannot lecture effectively, or have had unwanted courses foisted upon them. No matter your school ranking or major, you will encounter lousy enthusiasm-killing professors whom you'll have to endure. For many professors, your best shot for a more engaging experience would be to visit them during office hours.

In a certain sense, to quote Mark Twain, "Don't let schooling interfere with your education." You won't have this professor forever, though you may unfortunately have them or those like them again. Don't let them dampen your passion for the subject.

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    +1 the professor may be unable to accommodate you because your peers may not be at your level
    – Nobody
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 8:39
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    It's not that I am "above" the course level (I find the courses sufficiently challenging), it's just that I don't find the lectures an efficient or helpful way of learning this material. Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 17:33
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    @5space, that's fine. You should be aware that your experience is not isolated. I had courses where the professors went through the power-point slides and "talked at" the students for the allotted 1 1/2 hours where most students couldn't remember most of the material covered past the first dozen slides. People learn differently and there's no reason why you shouldn't try to learn in an efficient manner. There was a Ted Talk that noted some of the inefficiencies in college education at youtube.com/watch?v=piSLobJfZ3c
    – user389823
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 23:24
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    And yet, the lecture is still the overwhelmingly dominant format for instruction in college. This is a paradigm that needs to change.
    – alexw
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:52
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    Bad teachers give bad lectures. Also, don't use ratemyprofessor as it treats human beings like objects. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 17:13

I would like to attend lectures where the professor engages the students.

Well, isn't that what we all want? Some professors are very good at this, and, unfortunately, others are not.

I would recommend attending the lectures, even if you're finding little benefit. Why? I think skipping lectures altogether is a bad idea. You never know when a professor will offer some tidbit of information that will help you on an exam, or help clarify an assignment. It's one thing to miss a lesson every now and then, but habitually missing class doesn't seem like a good way obtain an education.

After class, I would talk to fellow classmates, and see if your feelings are isolated or universal. If your opinions are shared by a majority of your classmates, perhaps you could get a groundswell of support for being very blunt in your end-of-course surveys. That feedback should be candid but constructive. In other words, don't just say, "His lectures sucked," say, "His lectures would have been a lot better if..." If enough students voice a consistant message about the low-quality lectures, perhaps the professor will try to take some of your suggestions to heart, or perhaps the department head will pressure him to do so. That may not help you this term, but it might help other students in the future.

As for the long commute, I feel your pain, but the way I'd handle that is to plan to do other things while you're on campus. Maybe you could start working out at the campus gym, or start writing for your campus newspaper. Driving an hour each way to just sit through a crappy lecture does seem like a waste of time – and gas. Driving an hour each way to become engaged on your campus – even if that time happens to include a lecture from a professor who may not be so gifted in teaching in lecture halls – may not seem so bad.

I think it's rare for a professor to drastically change tactics midway through a course, so this is a matter of you making the best of a bad situation. Sometimes, that's part of getting an education, too, even though you won't get credit for it on your transcript. Just remember, many employees like to hire students with degrees, not just because of what was learned in the classroom, but for things that were inevitiably learned in the process of obtaining the education: time management, teamwork, dedication, extra curriculars – and making the most of bad situations.

  • Some professors are receptive to feedback, but not all are. It depends heavily on the college, the course, and the professor whether you can expect any change.
    – user389823
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 23:18
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    I think it's also worth noting that students (as a collective; myself included) are generally pretty bad at being engaged!
    – OJFord
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 0:12

It is difficult to know the reason why the lectures are not working for you without more information about you, the professor, and the course, but there are a few possibilities:

  1. The professor is not doing a good job of engaging the students because of a lack of interest or competence.

  2. The professor does not have the the flexibility to alter the way the course is taught due to institutional limitations.

  3. The professor should not alter the way the course is taught because overall it is working for the majority of the students in the class.

  4. The professor is unaware that the lectures are not working and would change the approach if he/she knew.

Of these only #4 will result in a change if you provide feedback but you should go talk to the professor because you are struggling with the class. Struggles do not have to be only low grades, if you are disengaging from the class that is a problem. Your approach should be one of requesting help understanding how the lectures are supposed to fit into the overall learning goals of the class, not one of offering lecture style critique. For the reasons listed above, I can't promise it will change anything but it may offer insights.

That being said, you should still go to the lectures. Lectures are only one part of a course and unless the professor stipulates otherwise, you should consider them non-optional. Your full participation in all aspects of the class is your responsibility as a student. There are lots of things that we have to do professionally that are inefficient (e.g., all my faculty meetings) but participation is a requirement of being part of a professional community and is a prerequisite of gaining the other benefits of that community. For example, I would be very reluctant to invest a lot of time in a student (however promising) who regularly came to my office hours but skipped all my lectures.

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    The "come to lecture no matter what" attitude is silly. What will you have to show/gain for wasting hours of your day? If you show an interest in the material and have the performance (a 4 GPA) to back it up, professors are generally responsive. If they ask why you aren't coming to lecture, you should let them know that you honestly don't find them sufficiently engaging and that you're commuting. A lot of this depends on the personality of the professor and the attitude of the student. Personally, I found that professors are responsive to well-performing, well-intentioned students.
    – user389823
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 16:13
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    @J.R. As long as there grades are there, it would appear the student takes the class seriously. I remember some professors took it as an affront that students wouldn't attend, but still performed and understood the subject at or better than peers who did. The student wouldn't necessarily go over the material that was covered in lecture (they can learn it sufficiently well on their own), but may be more interested in "extending" it.
    – user389823
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 23:17
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    @user389823 I think it is safe to say that the 4.0 student who skips all the lectures is a rare bird. In this case I would question why the student was in the class in the first place. Despite the how it may appear, most faculty consider the information provided in lecture to be a relevant component of the course, thus full course participation requires that you attend lecture. Grades are not the only measure of student engagement, a student that is not attending the lectures is not fully participating in the class no matter their grades.
    – DQdlM
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 23:49
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    @5space: Okay, so you find yourself in a class with a professor whose strength is not lecturing. It happens. Some lecturers are brilliant, some are capable, some are tolerable, and some are inept. It's highly unlikely you'll earn a degree without encountering all types – great, bad, and in-between. Now that you find yourself with a bad one, how will you react? Drive yourself mad? Sulk and complain? Be "reluctant" to invest in the lectures? I get that you're frustrated, but I think KennyP makes a good point: if you just stop showing up, it sends a message, whether you mean for it to, or not.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 9:28
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    @J.R. Going to lecture purely to save face, 'wasting' hours doing it, and wearing yourself out commuting is not worth it. This is something you'll eventually experience and have to comet to terms with in college. There are professor's who will almost recite the book verbatim, or provide watered down summaries. For those who are allergic to reading, this helps, for others, it is a nuisance.
    – user389823
    Commented Oct 13, 2013 at 13:11

This depends on the type of student you are. I got a lot out of going to lectures (this is mostly in maths), because I did concentrate fairly hard and make notes to myself where I didn't understand things. A friend of mine got nothing out of lectures and was better off studying by himself.

A few comments.

  • In my courses, lectures set the pace for the course, so it was necessary to know what was going on in the lectures even if you didn't turn up. If you aren't going to turn up, I hope the course has a good web page or equivalent.
  • Going to the lectures meant that during the lecture hour I was working on that subject. You need a fair amount of self-discipline to keep up steady work in all your courses without going to lectures.
  • As a lecturer (which I became), sure office hours are more engaging, but it is a much better use of my time to talk with a student who has been to lectures but is having trouble than to explain something to some student who could have got the information from the lectures but couldn't be bothered.
  • We gave a few marks for attendance, not many. We wanted students to get into the habit of turning up - this is particularly important for those who are not so able or don't have good study habits (yet), or whose background is a bit lacking.
  • A couple of times I have heard about courses where there are no lectures, just largely self-directed projects and support in the form of office hours. In these cases there was a small class of highly selected and very able students, the institution had the resources, and the students had a high degree of commitment. We would all love to have such classes, but the reality is different for most of us.

Sounds like you are just not at a competitive math department.

I am not trying to put you down. I'm only attempting to give a candid answer.

In our math dept, a top 5 department -- and top-ranked in several areas of math, our professors' lectures are pretty amazing.

There's a lot of intuition, elegance, and rigor during the lectures - most of the proofs are actually different from ones found in the books. And the profs explain why they want to do it differently.

Also, there's usually distribution of handwritten notes by the profs - stuff I had never found in the books.

If you want to continue to grad work and really love math and want the lectures that you dream about having, try to get into the strongest math department that you can.

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    This doesn't answer the question: "Should I approach my professors about my feelings? How should I go about this? Or should I stop going to lectures?"
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 10:50

I understand your frustrations. One positive thing you can get from going to lecture is to interact with your colleagues. Remember. you might be engaged in team projects or study together for an exam or a test. Another thing is, you can always ask your professor questions in class! Even a well written book may not discuss/provide all necessary information. One last thing, some professors like to mention real life examples or stories related to the subject, some might even discuss examples similar to ones s/he will use in exams.

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