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I'm in my final semester of a Computer Science degree at University and we have general education requirements.

I'm in a Public Speaking course with an interesting professor, lets call him professor Johnson. Johnson doesn't seem to be actually teaching any material or guiding us on any topics that are related to the book or curriculum we're assigned. He was obviously given all of the online course material, including our online quizzes and study guides. Most of the quiz grades are handed to students, whether we completed them or not. Some are not even available.

He was a one year contract with the university, and was hired a mere two weeks prior to the semester beginning. He doesn't know how to use the learning management system and seems to have no interest in learning it. I inquired about an online quiz, and he had no idea what I was talking about or how to get to it. Considering I'm the only senior, I offered to stay after and show him around the site, suggesting that he attach due dates to quizzes so the students will actually do them on time with the reading and he can decide not to accept late assignments if he so chooses. He nodded and hasn't made any changes since.

We spend our days in class talking about no particular topics, nothing about the book, and no PowerPoints in sight. He rants about our news habits, how much water we like to drink, and we spend 25 minutes each period doing breathing exercises. The only related material is a monthly speech that we must give, with basically no guidance.

My question is whether I should speak to the department chair about his behavior. We're halfway through the course and the LMS hasn't seen a single bit of attention, he doesn't respond to emails of any topic, and asks the class what we want to discuss for the day. It's obviously very freestyle and he's not following any course material. I'm finding it harder and harder to attend class, and increasingly frustrating that I have spent money on this course. He seems very financially worried about his contract being renewed, as he has literally brought this up in class.

Should I leave an honest course review and leave it at that, let his own fate decide whether his contract is renewed, or speak with the department chair about my concerns?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Massimo Ortolano Oct 18 at 13:02
  • Is education in your country/university free or not? – Thomas Oct 19 at 21:47
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Yes, you should raise this with the department, either with the Undergraduate Director or the Chair. The problem is not Prof. Johnson's unfamiliarity with the LMS--as a new faculty member, that is understandable. But you should restate what you said here about not teaching the assigned material.

You mention online quizzes that were given to him. Are they being offered and graded? If so, is the grading fair? If not, what assignments will your course grade be based on?

If the lessons are not being taught, students cannot complete the assignments successfully. That is the kind of issue the department's administrator will be concerned about, because they do want you to get a serious education in every class. And they know that the grading scheme in the syllabus, as well as the learning objectives, are contractual issues that have to be fulfilled.

In talking to the administrator, stay focused on teaching performance issues only and avoid anything personal. You are supposed to be learning something critical about the history and practice of public speaking, and you should have an opportunity to demonstrate that learning fairly, through tests or papers. If that is not happening, the department's administrators need to know. The sooner the better.

  • I can understand his unfamiliarity with the LMS, however it is extremely simple, all of the content was handed to him, and my offered assistance to implement them seemed to have no affect. He can't be bothered to read important emails regarding speeches. Quizzes offered are certainly supposed to be a part of your grade and overall understanding, but he doesn't use them or just hands out 100%'s to students because they're 'more of a general understanding thing.' – C.j. Oct 16 at 3:44
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    Apparently he does not want to do the quizzes online. Is he not offering them at all, then, and just giving everyone credit? That would be a big red flag. Are the emails about the course material going unanswered? Another red flag. One last question: has anyone in the class complained to the teacher yet? – Philly Oct 16 at 3:50
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    All of the quizzes are contained on the LMS, and without due dates, I could do them all now or do them all the last day of the course. They're pivotal to understanding the midterm and final, which are in person and on paper. Before the midterm, he released all of the answers for quiz 2 through 9 in order for us to study. We have talked about none of the midterm material in class. No one complains because it's all first and second year students, who are just happy to be in an easy course and seem to have no issue with this. – C.j. Oct 16 at 3:57
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    You should be getting back graded quizzes before the midterm, so that you can see you how well you have mastered the subject. Handing out answers is not a substitute for being tested, obviously. He sounds incredibly lazy, and the department needs to know about this. Obviously, you do have to worry about it getting back to him, which is not supposed to happen. If there is another section of this course being offered, can you switch to it? That would be the best solution. But you still need to let the Undergraduate Director know what is going on in that classroom. – Philly Oct 16 at 4:04
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    @Araucaria That's one possibility. It does mean ignoring a majority of what the OP said about in-class behavior, though. I also have seen teachers behave this way--no effort at all. So I would not dismiss this concern so quickly. And admins need to know when someone is not actually teaching their class. – Philly Oct 17 at 0:29
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He was a one year contract with the university, and was hired a mere two weeks prior to the semester beginning.

This situation suggests that the university was unable to hire anyone better prepared to teach. They probably know that already. I doubt speaking to the department chair will make a difference.

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    This course has 15-20 sections. This section was added because the rest were full near the beginning of semester, implying that they needed more sections to cover student need. He seems to be qualified for the position and is very charismatic. Regardless, he just likes to talk about his own content and doesn't seem to be interested in anything else. – C.j. Oct 16 at 16:13
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    But it's highly possible that the chair/department doesn't really know how badly things are going in this course. – Kimball Oct 17 at 7:05
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    As someone who was a department chair, I think you underestimate how hard it is for a chair to stay informed about everything that’s going on in an academic department. The only way a chair finds about certain things happening is by people telling them about those things, and often it takes input from more than one person to appreciate how bad a situation really is. What you are saying is a bit similar to saying “if you see a crime, don’t bother calling the police because they probably already know about it, so I doubt calling th em will make a difference.” That’s unhelpful to say the least. – Dan Romik Oct 17 at 23:03
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    @AnonymousPhysicist you are making lots of assumptions that simply aren’t stated in the question, nor can be inferred from it. The chair may know what’s going on, or they may not (and based on my experience in administration, both of those possibilities seem entirely plausible). The only way to ensure that they know is for OP to tell them. – Dan Romik Oct 18 at 3:32
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    What the department head almost certainly does know (or the head of teaching, or whoever organised the lecturing assignments) is that they were short-staffed and have assigned a comparatively unknown, inexperienced teacher on this section (and probably other inexperienced teachers on other courses too). What they probably don’t know is which of the inexperienced teachers are any good. – PLL Oct 18 at 11:47
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The professor is being treated as a day laborer, as most adjuncts are these days, he lacks direction because he doesnt care, does not have to care and neither does the university. Hes being treated as a disposable napkin. His contract ends in 1 year, what does he care?

There was a time when adjuncts were supposed to be professionals with professional lives outside the university, such as businessmen or experienced engineers, and they would be invited to give courses to share their experience in the real world, this was in contrast with tenure-track faculty, which required exclusive, permanent dedication to the university and therefore had vast teaching experience but lacked experience in the real world. Both types of professors complemented each other. Nowdays universities just hire inexperienced people as adjuncts and use them as ad-hoc tenure-track replacements just to skip on salaries and pensions and commitment.

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    Thanks for the answer. I do see this from time to time. I have a hard time reading him, frankly. He is super upbeat and loves teaching and being in class, so I don't think it's a "not here long, don't care" attitude. In fact, he wants his contract renewed. But he has no drive to talk about the book, assign or grade quizzes, read emails, or use any actual quantitative material. Who knows. – C.j. Oct 16 at 23:46
  • I think this is the first explanation of the system I've seen anywhere. Thanks! – Richard Oct 18 at 0:28
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    "His contract ends in 1 year" if he's really lucky. Probably it's closer to four months long. – Anonymous Physicist Oct 18 at 3:00
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    "hire inexperienced people as adjuncts" Sadly some people work as adjuncts for many years. Sadly because they continue to get low pay. – Anonymous Physicist Oct 18 at 3:00
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SE won't let me comment with a 1 rep, so I thought I'd add this answer, to provide context and perspective. I feel your pain, and frustration, and not defending the behavior of your professor, but I'm curious if he's on contract instead of being an actual employee?

The reason I ask is because I was an adjunct professor for two years and was an expendable contract employee of a certain US state's community and technical college system years ago. They hired contractors because they were cheaper - they paid us around $1000 per course per semester. I received just about zero guidance in teaching my first two classes for this school. They asked me to teach Intro to Computers and some sort of database design course. The first was admittedly a required general ed course and probably half the class was just not interested in being there. What made it worse was the book was just not very good at all. It was fact after fact after fact and it seemed like no one was even reading the book. Those that did probably found it not very engaging - I know I didn't. Sure, there were some interesting facts, but it was just too broad. Trying to give homework and create tests with this book was a difficult scenario because each chapter had so much data in it. I think at the time, I tried to set it up so we had tests after two chapters, and that made it worse on the students that didn't care to read the book.

So, that all said, the students in the course that didn't want to be there, didn't read the book, didn't come to class, didn't study for the test, and really needed to be back in high school learning how to read and write just blew me away at how poorly they performed, as a student. I was shell-shocked so much that I recall going to open book tests (I can't recall if I started them out with open book tests), but again, there was really too much material. I also started giving them study guides which was basically the material from the book in outline form that they could look at - and refer to during the tests - so that we could at least get more students to pass the class.

In hindsight, I didn't handle all this well at all. I talked to a fellow instructor that had been teaching for a while and she gave me some pointers about things like quizzes and the like (so they had a hint about what was going to be on the test) but that wasn't in the syllabus. I should have probably talked to the department heads about how to go about handling this situation, but I didn't. The database design course went great - the students wanted to be there, because most were probably going on for a computer-related, or possibly a CS, degree. We designed a school database for housing student records, etc. I got some good feedback and thought it went well. But the required course, ugh. It was painful for me and for them and I had no idea how to fix the problem (at the time). When I stepped into that classroom for the first time, those students owned me. They ended up manipulating me almost to the point of helping them pass and I really regret that in hindsight. It wasn't a good experience for any of us, but I did learn that many of them just wanted a passing grade so they could move on.

I didn't do a good job - at all. I was much younger and less mature and had no business teaching that class at the time. I wasn't prepared to handle the situation with those that didn't care about academia. I should not have been asked to teach that intro to computers class again, but there was no way to objectively determine I was doing a bad job. We even had a well-known and fine instructor from a bigger university come and speak to the professors for tips and tricks about how to teach better. He was an excellent and engaging speaker and I'm certain students loved him, but he was a seasoned veteran. He even told us that student reviews that slammed instructors were mostly because they probably performed poorly in the class or had a poor or failing grade. So, we just kind of ignored poor reviews, because we had some good ones too. I think my own personal saving grace was that I grew relationships with some of the students in the intro to computers class, not because I was doing a good job teaching that class.

I think professor Johnson could be somewhere in my camp. Maybe he shouldn't be teaching. Maybe he needs some direction (clearly, as you've indicated). Maybe he just needed a job and the university needed someone to teach it (maybe because the instructor originally assigned to the class had to bow out). Maybe he's been conditioned by the students so much in his previous experiences that he feels like he can't teach anymore, so he just does something else. Maybe he's a really poor instructor. I'm providing this answer to just say there's maybe not a lot you can do about this situation. If you talk to the department head, they may tell you he's the instructor and the course content is at his discretion. If it gets back to him, he may crack down and it could affect other students in the class. If you leave a poor review, they may shrug it off that a student probably ended up with a poor grade and tried to be vengeful.

  • Thanks for your input, really. I feel that this is part of the problem. He means well, and has some interesting information, but it's frustrating come testing time. We haven't spoken about any of the content. It sounds like he is in the contract situation you discussed, but so far, he has made no effort to learn the LMS, hasn't even opened the book, and basically teaches what he thinks should be taught. I'm stuck in a tough spot. I don't feel like complaining will be of use since he is a one year professor and this is my last semester. Frankly, I just need the grade, but this is painful. – C.j. Oct 16 at 21:23
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    I hear you. In this particular case, I'd at a minimum do your best as a senior to take the lead in the class for the benefit of others. And, of course, try to understand as best you can the requirements for the course to ace it in the end. Maybe even take on the role as translating the missing course requirements/direction to help those that are confused to know what to do in order to pass the class. – sfors says reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 21:28
  • As an aside, one student did mention to me when I was teaching that intro to computers class for the very first time which was on-campus, that she was confused as to what she needed to do in the class. I'm not surprised now by that statement. I was confused what I going to do too! – sfors says reinstate Monica Oct 16 at 21:31
  • I seem to be the only one who sees this as a problem. Everyone else (freshmen and sophomores) just enjoy sitting around, wasting time listening to his rants, doing breathing exercises and getting handed grades. I've been through almost 30 courses with some very intelligent professors, and It's nothing short of annoying to be there. I just picked up employment and have to leave work to go to this class. I'd rather be working. – C.j. Oct 16 at 21:37
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    I think everyone is shocked by this. And even longtime professors are in meetings complaining how students are getting dumber (and I think there's a lot of truth to that, with "everyone goes to college" and the internet-based cheating culture). But in fairness, as an undergrad I recall a lot of fellow students that were in deep over their heads and couldn't do anything unless it was very simple and handed to them with step-by-step instructions. It's just as an instructor they become your problem. You have to focus some on the smarter students to enjoy teaching. They deserve it more anyway. – A Simple Algorithm Oct 20 at 0:48
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It seems this person's public worries about their contract has given you the impression that their job is in your hands. You shouldn't concern yourself with this.

What you clearly wish to do is give feedback. We can hope it gets to them and they act on it sooner rather than later, but you are one student of many, and I suspect this professor's teaching style will be fairly popular with many others. I'd suggest discussing your concerns with your own academic advisor (you can ask them about whether to do something else next).

As for you particular concerns, issues like everyone getting free grades for homework even if they didn't try, or quiz deadlines not being as early as you think they should be, are not really things to complain about; you are free to do the material as early as you see fit, and to work as hard on it as you want. So I'd suggest sticking to the more serious concerns, like not receiving a fair grade (if this were true), or not covering the course outcomes listed in the catalog (assuming this were true). Issues like staying on track with the syllabus, and giving prompt feedback on students performance, are somewhere in the middle; we should always strive to do these things better so feedback is certainly called for. But they probably aren't emergencies that will make administrators jump to action.

  • I couldn't help but feel like it would be my fault his contract doesn't get renewed. But frankly, I don't think it should be if this is how he intends to teach. The thing is the majority of these quizzes aren't even available to take online. He just sends us the answers to 'study' and says he will just give us all free points for them. – C.j. Oct 16 at 16:17
  • @C.j. once upon a time many classes consisted of lectures, a midterm, and a final. And frankly it seems that pay scales for adjunct professors are still based on that system, since they often only get paid for hours spent in the classroom. Nothing for preparation of lectures. Nothing for learning online systems and training. And nothing for grading. So keep in mind this person is minimizing effort they probably aren't paid for anyway. Their dept, meanwhile, will try to gently press them to spend more of that unpaid time, but they clearly have limited leverage. – A Simple Algorithm Oct 16 at 16:41
  • He doesn't come off like the type that just doesn't care or adheres to "If I'm not getting paid, I'm not doing it," he is incredibly charismatic and responsive in class. Loves to be with students. He just doesn't seem to grasp that he should probably be teaching the course material, responding to emails, and actually grading and giving quizzes fairly. He seems oblivious and doesn't realize that he is. – C.j. Oct 16 at 16:49
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Poor teaching harms not only you but all students and all future students. It harms society, since more of its members are poorly trained and can't do their jobs and tasks properly. This can be annoying (the clerk can't fix your computer) or even dangerous (the doctor prescribes the wrong medicine). Please report continous, bad teaching if it is objectively bad (wrong information, almost no course material, etc.), so the teacher can improve and the students can be properly educated. Of course it is best to talk to your professor first. But you already did. So maybe try it again (this time with specific incidents). If it does not work try to escalate this.

Please gather all hard evidence you can get (e.g screenshots from the missing quizes, emails, etc.) and write an ojective review to the department chair.

Something like your posts but with specific incidents:

On October first, we had to do X. The related quiz was not prepared [1]. This links to course material were not reachable [2]. Our teacher did not provide printed learning material for this topic. He did not have any power point slides prepared. Here is a transcript of his speech [3]. It was completly about drinking water and lasted for 30 minutes. The official topic of this lecture, announced on the cource website, was "The impact of nuclear power stations on the US electrical grid [4]".

So you have specific problems which can be addressed and even better evidence to proof poor teaching. Make screenshots of everything related.

One last remark: If a teacher / professor does not want to enable timelimits, it may be part of his teaching style. "Do it, when ever you have time for it". And since everyone is an adult, the attendees should know what is best for them. This is not high school, where you have to motivate people to learn.

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Should I leave an honest course review and leave it at that, let his own fate decide whether his contract is renewed, or speak with the department chair about my concerns?

Talk to your student union about this - preferably to the representative from your faculty/department, preferably from your program-year in that faculty/department. They should have both a better idea of what can be done and the capacity and resources to do it. (Assuming that your student union is not dysfunctional, that is.)

If you have the misfortune to study in a university without a proper student union (see @Philly's comments), then - I'm sorry, you're out of luck. Consider organizing at least some sort of student action group among fellow students taking the class, on this matter.

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    Regrettably, student unions don't exist in the US in the way you describe. Our student unions are actually buildings where students eat and the bookstore and student government resides. Student complaints are handled by undergraduate directors in the department unless they involve issues of discrimination, where federal law is involved, and then it's handled at the University level. – Philly Oct 18 at 1:19
  • @Philly: And what's the "student government" then? – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 18 at 6:36
  • Advocating for student initiatives and social events. – Philly Oct 18 at 17:17
  • @Philly: Well, calling out a Professor who's failing his duty is a student initiative, isn't it? ... :-( – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Oct 18 at 18:00
  • Student governments in American universities rarely (if ever) take up individual student grievances. Departments have procedures for that, as do the schools and colleges within the university. – Philly Oct 18 at 18:18
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I notice one of your complaints is that the professor fails to use quantitative material. Obviously, natural sciences, engineering, and technology demand quantitative material, because they deal with physical materials which can be precisely mathematically understood.

Public speaking, however, deals with human experience; Are you going to model speech engagement as a dynamical system? As a series of differential equations or an ensemble of neural network models? The only quantitative material I can think of is statistics based on polls and surveys, and that just seems unreliable to the point of having no real-world benefit or consequence.

Your professor has probably thought about this already, unless you're also calling him a dilettante who doesn't care about his field.

Consider, if you will, the vital importance of breathing technique for the development and sustained projection of a powerful, rich, charismatic voice. Too many speakers do not develop the confidence and physical ability to deliver engaging speech, which hampers their impact and makes it harder for an audience to take them seriously, regardless of their credentials or actual knowledge.

What does a textbook or online quiz have to do with public speaking anyway? The core competency required is the ability to engage, entertain, and relate to an audience, even (especially) in an academic (undergraduate-wise) context; otherwise you limit the transfer of ideas to people who appreciate dry, technical delivery, and ignore the masses.

He flits about and discusses random topics with no discernible pattern, ignores the book and doesn't care about quizzes, and seems to provide you with unlimited freedom to design your speeches. If I were you, I would love that freedom and probably overthink the significance of every random topic, and then I would go off and design the best speech I could possibly give on a subject which I genuinely enjoy, and aim to stir the audience into experiencing that same enjoyment.

Perhaps the solution is not in changing his behavior, but in changing your perspective, and searching for the underlying purpose in his seemingly aimless behavior.

I mean, if results validate approach, then look at the current president of the US -- regardless of politics, he knows how to engage his target audience and inspire their undying loyalty.

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    Welcome to Academia.SE. Please note that I've edited your last paragraph to remove the commentary on a political figure. This commentary was not necessary to support your answer. and may rise to the level of unnecessarily "offending or alienating" other users, which is prohibited by our code of conduct. Cheers! – cag51 Oct 17 at 5:09
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    @HanX I understand your perspective here. Breathing exercises are definitely important in public speaking, as well as the human experience. But it's come to the point where it's not for learning benefit, but to fill time when he doesn't know what to cover. The underlying issue here is that the quantitative material decides our grade, along with the speeches. This material isn't offered or actually graded, exams are foreign material, and he doesn't respond to emails regarding speeches or provide guidance. That is an issue for me. – C.j. Oct 17 at 19:42

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