For my first course on CS topic (first course on the topic and not the first overall), I used the university evaluation system to ask students about their feedback.

In addition to responding to questions by giving rates, the students were also asked to specify what they liked and what they didn't like. There are some comments that are obviously wrong but among which, there are comments that the students believe are true.

One common comment is that the slides contain many formulas and they claimed that most of them are not necessary because they didn't understand the lectures. In contrast, they could understand the topic from youtube videos without all these formulas.

I wanted to teach the topic from the right perspective of master university level. but it seems that the students prefer animated lectures, which are useful to understand the overall idea but not the core of the topic, especially because math/algebra is important in this course.

I am wondering whether I should satisfy the students' opinion or I should keep the current way which I find more useful to reach deep understanding.


5 Answers 5


I spent many years of my professional life discussing how to present complicated ideas. The first rule that I developed was: "Any comment, however stupid seeming, should be taken seriously". In the OP's context that means try to understand what the student comments are getting at, even if the students who are commenting cannot explain it. Something you said evoked that comment. If you don't like that comment say something differently next time.

The second rule is: disregard any specific suggestion for how you might say it differently. Only you know what you want to say. Your students do not.


I advise that you consider every comment as having some validity. But they may be just preferences for what they wish you had done, not actually valid objections to how you teach.

But some of them might indicate that you could be more effective in general. I agree with what I think is your sentiment that a lecture isn't an entertainment, though some students wish it were. But, it is also possible to be too pedantic in lecturing so that students are pushed into detailed explanations that obscure deep insights into the topics.

I also agree that in certain CS courses, as well as math and some others, it is important for the students to have the formulae and to be able to access the detail, but you can also ask whether that is best done in lecture with slides or writing on the board, or, alternatively, with handouts that can be studied as leisure. But in either case, the students need to be given tasks that reinforce the key ideas and feedback so that they don't draw the wrong conclusions or miss important points.

But, the main value of such written comments is that it gives you the ability to evaluate what you do and ask whether some alternative might be better.

One of the best ways to check whether you are effective is to also look at student grades along with the comments. How is the group of students doing overall? Are you happy with that? How are the low performing students doing? Can that be improved by changing pedagogy somehow? Are the best students being challenged or are they just skating along without effort?

Ask the questions. None of them, or any of them, might induce you to change how you teach, but it is worth asking the questions.

Since some of your comments suggest you may be too pedantic (valid or not), take a look at this question from CSEducators.


Satisfying student opinion is not the objective here. However with these comments look for anything that is consistent about what they didn't understand, and then have a think about whether there is anything that you can do, to help more of the students understand that next time. There's probably a few comments in there that are helpful, and there probably are things you can do other than dumbing down the lecture.

If a large number of the students fail to understand the algebra can you introduce the topic with numbers rather than letters for example ? This can help some students. Yes this may make more work for students, but if they understand it better they may well prefer.

Also bear in mind that going through algebra can be better done as a homework exercise or in notes than in a lecture.


There are objections you should ignore and ones you should pay attention to. These are ones you should pay attention to.

It's a very standard, normal problem that you are prone to. You want to be rigorously correct, perhaps even defensively (!) and are not considering the human element. I see the reliance on slides (rather than chalk) along with pre-checked formulae as indicative of this problem. Which again, is a very common issue.

Note, I'm not saying disregard correctness. The more you can be correct the better (it is very distracting if a lecturer has a high error rate). But you also ABSOLUTELY need to consider the HUMAN element.

How do you excite, engage, motivate, and TRAIN your students? How much can they absorb? Can you keep them engaged by varying between derivations and examples (and believe ME, examples from homework and similar to test problems ARE motivating). Also have at least SOME in class drill. Even a couple trivial problems will engage the students and...well wake them up. (They are not silicon, are not angels, are not robotic. Are flesh and blood, with limits on their power of concentration.)

You have 50 minutes in a lecture and are using up 30+ (typically) people's time. That's a heavy investment of manhours. Make them count.

Go look at HOW to teach (and not just theoretical or scientific treatments, but practical lessons of good teachers). Not just WHAT to teach. HECK, look at the damned Youtubes. Maybe something useful in there (not on the content, only, but on how to teach). Go watch the Conrack movie (now there was a teacher's challenge).

But the good thing is...you CAN evolve. Can try different things. I remember my first set of feedback. Lot of comments about me being too stern. Other teachers had an issue with discipline or the like...but I had control from the start, without even needing to emphasize it. I actually thought about what I was doing and toned it down a bit. Realized, I COULD. But a little more touchy feely and joking around. And second semester went even better than first (which was not bad, itself).

So, yes, DUH. You should absolutely consider this feedback. And yes, you should change.


Teachers tend to overfit to written answers, and underfit to ratings. When you receive feedback, ask yourself after the sample size. If the general ratings of your course are positive enough, you should be proud of your teaching achievement. This does not imply that other criticism isn't justified, but it should fortify your belief that you're on the right track. If 50 students give you 5/5 stars, and one student writes a long negative paragraph, it optically looks as if the negative judgment is a big deal but in practice it might not.

You write that the comment about many formulas is a common comment. That is an important signal. The free-from text part of the feedback becomes very valuable when several students describe a common theme. This provides evidence to me that the student body as a whole is reasonable in complaining about the formulas. Whether this means that your course needs to tone it down, or prerequisite courses need to ramp up the mathematical rigor, would still be a fair question to ask. So your final question cannot be answered by any external person: do you think that your course should challenge along this axis? Only you can set the learning goals of your course.

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