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A little background info: So I'm in my second year of studies at a state university in the town I live in. I'm specifically going to school for computer science. As I said, I'm in my second year, but I've been programming since I was 14 and was recently accepted into a research group (not trying to brag, this will be relevant...).

The school I attend uses the flipped class format for its computer science courses. Every computer science course I've taken has used this format and in all cases the classes have been terrible. In my first year, it really didn't stand out to me as much since these were intro classes, and as a result were really easy for me. But this past semester, I'm taking two classes, one that's almost entirely new for me (Logic and Algorithms), and one that's new in places, but I was really looking forward to (Operating Systems and Networks).

In the logic class, there is no material except a terrible interactive ebook; I understand very little, and one of my friends said the same until he went and found materials from another university that actually explained well. In the OS class, the only material are pre-recorded lectures (which are very high level, whereas the tests and exercises are much more in depth). The only way I've been able to understand the OS class is by buying a text book (which is labeled as optional). Even though I love computer science and do well at it, because of these flipped classes, I'm doing the worst gradewise in these two. For perspective, I'm also taking Linear Algebra, and I'm very close to an A in this course; math has always been one of my worst subjects, and this class is taught in a traditional format.

I have friends and know people in these and other comp sci courses, and we've all been saying the same things (some of which brought it up before I even mentioned it). I have one friend of similar skill level in basically the same situation, and another completely new to computer science whose taking the first introductory course (which states that it assumes you are entering it without prior knowledge), and she says nothing makes sense from this course because the material (and lack thereof) is so bad. On top of that, me and many of my friends commute an hour one way to school (and some of us work part time jobs, myself included), and its really frustrating to basically drive an hour to do homework on material that doesn't make sense during a period that could be spent explaining it. Flipped classes really do net out to more time spent than traditional classes.

I apologize if this comes across as a rant, but I really would like to know if this is worth addressing, and with whom. I feel like it will be like talking to a wall, but I would like to at least say something. I feel bad because I have such a terrible attitude toward my studies at this point because I'm so frustrated. Course evaluations came out last week, and I absolutely ripped these classes, but I would like to maybe send a letter to someone or something.

  • How big are these classes? Around 30, less, more, much more? – Buffy Nov 25 '19 at 16:28
  • Over 100 each, I think around 120 give or take a few. – user111289 Nov 25 '19 at 18:36
  • Have you considered transferring? I think the odds that things will improve in the next year or two are very small. Particularly if you are paying for these terrible classes, it does not seem like a good value proposition for you. – cag51 Nov 26 '19 at 16:54
  • I would totally transfer but the money makes it prohibitive; I'm planning on transferring for graduate school though. I totally agree with you though, that's something that crossed my mind more than once. – user111289 Nov 28 '19 at 12:12
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TL;DR: you could write a letter to your program director. However, success may be elusive, since the situation may be constrained by forces outside of the control of you and your lecturers.


It is worth addressing. The official course evaluations are the appropriate place for this, so you have taken the right approach. However, depending on the situation at your university, it may be the case that nothing you can do will make an impact on the situation. This is because the situation may be forced upon the lecturers through circumstances beyond their and your control.

Consider the following example. I am the responsible lecturer for a data mining course at my university. Teaching is 30% of my job, with 50% dedicated to research and 20% to project management. I am teaching this course in the traditional format, which I would prefer to keep doing. Last year, 134 students followed my course, and I survived (with positive student evaluations). This year, 312 students showed up, and I am barely hanging on (with student evaluations pending). Purely trying to keep up with the barrage of student questions in my inbox is eating up all my time. If I keep the course format the way it was, there will be absolute zero time for me to fulfill the non-teaching 70% of my responsibilities.

At my university, I am forced to write a formal reply to the outcome of the official student course evaluation, explaining how I will address the comments in next year's edition of the course. Hence, these evaluations matter at least a little. However, if I decide to refer to videolectures instead of ever teaching a plenary lecture again, the following will happen. My student evaluation grade will go down. The extra time I free up by eschewing lecture preparation, I will dedicate to writing another grant proposal. If the proposal gets the funding I request, I will get tenure. If I don't get that funding but my student evaluation grade remains high, I might get tenure. My situation simply does not provide me with any incentives to keep students satisfied; in fact, if I were to keep students satisfied, I actively reduce my tenure probability.

If your lecturers have mixed responsibilities like I have, it may be the case that their job parameters are set up such that student evaluations are not relevant enough to them. If not, then your success still depends on what value your university attaches to course evaluations. No success is guaranteed.

So what can you do?

  • definitely keep filling out those course evaluations. This builds up to a paper trail of things being wrong in your programme at large, rather than being a problem of individual courses;
  • ensure that you get the education you desire. If the course doesn't provide you with the education, you should use your time at university to get it yourself. Form a study group with your friends, acquire the books or other materials to teach yourself the subject. It is of course far from ideal to have to do this yourself, but if your university does not develop your skill set, you can still develop your skill set. Acquiring this optional text book you talk about, for instance, is a good move;
  • if you have a set of coherent complaints, showing consistent shortcomings across multiple courses and lecturers, and these complaints are shared between a substantial number of students, bring the complaints to your program director, as a group. The program director should address problems with your program as a whole, that span beyond a single course.
  • I'm accepting your answer because I appreciate how you explained it from the opposite perspective, which I'm try to understand and keep in mind; I'll definitely explore your suggestions. – user111289 Nov 28 '19 at 12:16
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It may well be that you are just at the wrong place. If your description is even close to accurate then your complaints will be impossible to act on effectively as the other students are likely not where you are. Large classes with a diversity of skills are very difficult to manage in the best case. But, it is possible to do that if the administration is willing to look at the issue. Scaling up in education is one of my least favorite things, since I see education as a relationship between a teacher and a learner (see Plato). You can't use the same techniques with 20 that you use with 120.

But, aside from leaving, there is something you might try. It is a fact that you will learn more about a subject by trying to teach it. If you are comfortable with it, tell the teacher that you already know and have experience with much/most/all of the material in the course and that you are bored. You could either suggest more and different material for learning from the prof, or, the more interesting case, offer to help those who struggle with the material to come up to speed. You will get a deeper understanding with either method if you can get buy-in from the prof. A flipped classroom makes this last solution fairly easy to do. You become a TA-lite, so to speak, wandering around and helping people get over blocks.

But, for a more systemic solution, you and the others in a similar situation might try to meet with the department head and maybe a few faculty and ask for a solution to your joint problem. One solution is to allow testing out of some of the early courses. Another is to have a single "honors" section that people could test in to and which might cover material from several of the early courses in a single course. This would put the students into advanced courses earlier than otherwise, but would take some faculty resources. But if the honors course was also "seminar-like" where the students prepare and present material it would be valuable for all and require less of a load on the faculty.

But, I think that complaining isn't going to get you far. Pointing out a problem and asking for a solution is much better, especially, but not necessarily, if you can provide suggestions for the outline of the solution. And collective action here is more likely to be successful than acting on your own.

I'll also suggest that you prof may be just as frustrated as you are. I know I would be and would be searching for solutions.

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