In the past, I was only teaching graduate-level courses where I was creating the material myself. It was slides with material from various books, research papers, and my own work. Accompanied by exercises and small projects that I would build from scratch.

This year I have to teach a new undergraduate-level course. The material I need to cover is more standardized and there are at least two very good textbooks that cover the material nicely (pdfs available at the library, incl nice examples, etc.).

  1. Should I still build my own material? It seems like a waste of time since the material is very basic and standard and I could not reach the quality of the textbooks that are at several revisions. On the other hand, I would avoid issues like this: Professor only teaches what is already in textbook. Should I quit going to the lectures?
  2. If I teach the textbook, doesn't it feel like cheating? I mean, I'm explaining things they can find in the textbook. For some students, it's useful because they need someone to ease them into the subject before they dig deeper. For others, they can simply read the book.
  3. Another way to go is to develop complementary material to the textbook (lab exercises, computer examples, etc.) but still, teach the book. But, I am not sure how I feel developing supplementary material to someone else's textbook.

Any experience to be shared or references?

  • 1
    Is this for a mathematics course? – Buffy Jul 17 '20 at 15:39
  • 1
    @Buffy Engineering course with extensive numerical exercises. They need to learn the technologies, basic principles, and methodologies to analyze case studies. – electrique Jul 17 '20 at 15:40

I think that the third option is widely accepted. Students will complain about the other two, though different students and for different reasons.

The book is an outline and is a fallback for students. If it has good exercises, then they can get practice. But you will still want your own exercises to supplement in many cases, and certainly for exams. But I think a lot of, maybe most, professors follow the outline of the book even if they don't lecture precisely from it. Their exercises may be a mix of those taken from the book and those they develop themselves.

And, encourage students to take good lecture notes and not depend completely on the book.

And using your own material lets you adapt a bit for your students if they don't fit a standard model.

  • "And using your own material lets you adapt a bit for your students if they don't fit a standard model." Does this refer to the material I develop as part of option 3 or option 1? – electrique Jul 17 '20 at 15:42
  • 3
    Both, probably. – Buffy Jul 17 '20 at 15:45

Even for most graduate courses, I find having a textbook useful. Part of the reason for this is that I think it benefits students to get multiple perspectives on the same material. From my personal experience as a student, I know that sometimes having an instructor follow a text too closely can be a problem, since if a student has trouble grasping the particular presentation of an idea—and taht idea is presented exactly the same way in the textbook and in class—it can be real difficulty. (This can be particularly an issue when a lecturer is teaching from a book they wrote.)

When I develop a course, using a given text, I try to do a few things. First, to avoid confusion, I adopt the textbooks’s notation whenever possible. That means that students will have a consistent mathematical description of the material, whether they are looking at their notes from my lectures or reading in the book. Second, I try to choose examples for my lectures that complement the book. Sometimes, the specific derivations or examples in the textbook are complicated enough or important enough that I cover them in class in the same way that the book covers them. Other times, I let the students read the text and choose different examples, so as to expose them a variety of different approaches to the same kinds of problems. Third, I try to identify points in the book’s treatment that may be unclear, so that I can provide extra elucidation of these specific points.

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