I'm taking a graduate course online this semester, and have noticed a few things:

  1. Professor has assigned us a mid-term, a final, and a research paper as the coursework for the class. These are the only grades we will receive this semester from this course.
  2. Each week, he assigns us a chapter to read, and around 8-9 hours of videos that are supposed to serve as supplementary instruction.
  3. The videos are publicly posted YouTube videos from the textbook author, Coursera, and other online courses.
  4. He has not provided any of his own material for this course. No PowerPoints, no lectures, no notes, no study guide. Nothing of his own work.

At no point in the course description, or anything provided before registration did he indicate that the course would be structured like this.

Is it an issue that we're essentially taking an uncredited Coursera course for a grade and graduate credits?

  • 16
    But, as far as I can tell, it's not uncredited. Your complaint seems to be that the professor hasn't provided any original material. Are you a doctoral student or a master's student? In either case, and especially the latter, it is up to you to identify the new material.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 2:33
  • 20
    What do you mean by "no study guide"? Point 2 seems to describe exactly a study guide. Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 5:46
  • 18
    "Each week, he assigns us a chapter to read" But I thought you said he wasn't teaching.
    – JRN
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 7:11
  • 73
    Is this a course which was originally planned to be online, or a face-to-face course that was abruptly moved online due to the COVID-19 outbreak?
    – academic
    Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 9:27
  • 16
    The question is unclear, as it is tagged with COVID-19 but does not mention if the course was planned as online or forced there. Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 16:55

6 Answers 6


My personal opinion, which is nothing more than that, is that yes, this professor's behavior is possibly inappropriate. Flipped classrooms can be a wonderful thing, but then instructors can hold online discussions, "virtual office hours", moderate discussion forums over the Internet, or otherwise engage with their classes. If your professor is doing that, then great! -- take advantage of it.

That said, with the COVID-19 outbreak everyone is in very unfamiliar territory. In principle you could complain to a department administrator, but your issue is likely to be ignored. And keep in mind that other obligations may have ramped up significantly -- for example, your professor might be at home all day, with small children whose daycare just closed.

One possible course of action might be to suggest other course activities to your professor. For example, would you like to participate in an online discussion forum, moderated by the professor, where the videos are discussed? Have "virtual office hours" at fixed times via videoconference, where you can ask questions and listen to others' questions? Pick something you'd like to see, and ask if your professor if he would mind doing it.

  • 3
    Could you perhaps include an explanation on (when and) why, in your opinion, this professor's behavior is possibly inappropriate?
    – a.t.
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 11:17
  • 3
    @a.t. It sounds as if the professor is basically not interacting with the class at all. If that is the case, then I take issue with his behavior. "Interacting" can be creating original material, assigning and providing detailed feedback on homework, hosting discussions via videoconference, actively moderating discussion forums... there are a ton of options. But if the professor has mostly just said "Go learn this material on your own", then why should a student pay tuition for that?
    – academic
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 11:45
  • Thank you for your elaboration! For completeness: In that case the student could, for example, decide to pay for the certificate that, many believe, assures, or increases the likelihood, of a minimum of some level of quality of the enjoyed education. Or the student could, decide to pay for the tuition because they, or people whom they think they might depend on in the future, (e.g. when getting a job), think a professor (often) selects/composes/creates information that is required to complete a course, successfully. Or because other (online) platforms do not compose information that well.
    – a.t.
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 13:22
  • 1
    @a.t. then the tuition fees should be reduced. Charging $10000 per year for a certificate and nothing more is extremely inappropriate, to avoid using stronger/more controversial words. Especially if the professor's decision to "not teach, not be available for questions, basically not do their job" happens after the tuition fees have been paid.
    – wimi
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 8:44
  • no, it isn't inappropiate.
    – Rainb
    Commented Dec 7, 2020 at 13:15

If your instructor is available for questions, comments and discussions, then you can learn a great deal this way, potentially.

I recommend that you try to do just that. If, after at least ten days of really trying, you have difficulties, or find yourself concerned that you may not be properly prepared for courses that build on the one you're currently taking, then I recommend that you reach out to a department administrator. Present it as a problem you are having, not as a problem your instructor is having. However, do lay out in as neutral a tone as possible, a description of the current course format, and if your instructor has been unresponsive to questions, do include that information. Draft the email and sleep on it. The next day be brutal and remove any trace of whining or complaining. Just state the problem as a problem you are having.

Hopefully you will not have a problem.

Happy studying!

  • 4
    The mid-term will also serve as a good guidance on the accuracy of his material. If he gives you a test where material was not covered, then it is a problem. If it is covered, then it isn't a problem.
    – Nelson
    Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 8:20

Your question is stated as "is it an issue". In this form I believe the right answer is "no, there are no issues". In some fundamental subjects like calculus or linear algebra I don't even expect for an average teacher to prepare "own" materials that would be different from more or less standard textbooks (after all, this is the purpose of textbooks -- to serve as standard teaching/learning materials). Next, I don't see any principal differences between "a textbook" and "a coursera course".

I understand you might dislike this way of organizing a course, but that's a completely different matter. At the end of the day I think you should be more concerned with acquiring appropriate knowledge rather than pondering on teachers' attitude. I believe Coursera provides decent content, so you should be happy (given that your submissions are properly evaluated and graded, and you receive appropriate guidance and feedback).


What you've described sounds like a very standard online class. The only thing missing is some kind of method for direct communication with the professor. Usually this would be accomplished through discussion boards although there are other options, e.g. live sessions via Zoom or WebEx. If the professor has included something like that to allow you to ask questions and get immediate feedback then I don't see anything out of the ordinary here.

  • 5
    Indeed: Personal access to a teacher's help is in my opinion the essential extra you get from a course you signed up for (and, I assume, pay for) personally; as opposed to simply studying on your own, potentially using the same online resources. Commented Mar 26, 2020 at 13:26

There doesn't seem to be any contravention of norms or flouting of rules here. Professors are not bound to create original content; they are required to obtain appropriate permissions while using existing material. That does not seem to be the case here.

It may be argued that this isn't an ideal way to teach, but I assure you, you will find enough people to argue on both sides (on this site as well). Pedagogical instruction is far from being homogeneous, and every teacher has a different way of going about it. I would suggest approaching it with an open mind, actively engaging with the resources suggested (including the professor/teaching assistants) doing the assessments to the best of your ability.

After doing so, you will be able to identify specific problem areas, which can then be highlighted in whatever means your institution allows (feedback forms, direct interaction, mediated interaction, dropping the course etc.)


With points #1, #2, and #3, he/she outlined the topics of the course including checkpoints to grade the participants' ability to apply the techniques the course is about. Depending on the field and level of instruction, he / she may think there is no need to create original material in the sense of «the instructor created new slides», and reasons may include

  • there already is sufficient material made accessible by others (e.g., textbooks, the Coursera sites you mention), as well as

  • he / she assumes participants of his / her course advanced this much that they are able to identify additional ressources by themself of in exchange e.g. with other attendees. The actual learning is not that you hear an instructor literarally reading slides, nor the mere writing on the green board. It is about you familiarizing with the topic.

    Especially under current constraints, he / she possibly intended to apply the concept of flipped classroom where participants of a class attend the lectures to discuss and clarify their questions during the self-study instead of «only» listening to a monologue.

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