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Suppose I am the only instructor for the Algorithms and data structures course in my institute. Before the start of the course, say during the first lecture, I provide the students with the textbooks to be referred to. The course does not have any lab. It is a theory course.

Most of the students who enrolled in my course refer to those textbooks and get clarifications for their uncertainties and also get solutions for problems from the standard textbooks I suggested, during the tutorial sessions. I am comfortable with this.

But, there are some students who use to participate actively in coding competitions and hence tend to ask questions from those sites. For example, If I complete a lecture on stacks, they visit sites such as gfg, HackerEarth, CodeChef, etc., and ask for algorithms for their complex queries. I am unsure about how to handle those questions during the tutorial sessions. It seems like an extra burden to me as those students can push the limits of tutorial sessions from reference books to advanced queries.

I saw some professors not entertaining those queries by saying "do it yourself". While some others try to use their teaching assistants for such queries without themselves involved. I can't agree with the latter as the teaching assistants also find it difficult.

I want to know how to handle such queries that try to push the organized course structure to a broader one.

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    What do you mean? They ask you questions that they saw on those sites? If those questions are different from the ones you set as homework, and more difficult, I think you should probably refuse to answer them, unless you have spare time.
    – Oliver882
    Sep 3, 2022 at 21:35
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    Even for the questions from the textbook, you should not be giving solutions but rather helping the students find solutions themselves. Sep 3, 2022 at 21:59
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    I'm not sure I understand the question correctly. Generally speaking, it is a good thing if students want to learn more than what is taught in the course. Could you clarify what precisely your concern is? That it takes time away from the actual contents of the course to answer those question during the course? That it might confuse students with less advanced understanding? That the questions might exceed the instructor's knowledge of the field? That answering the questions, e.g., during office hours will require too much additional time from the instructor? Sep 3, 2022 at 22:04
  • @AlexanderWoo: Hmm, this depends a bit on the cultural context, I think. In most undergraduate math course I've taken or given, it was common to provide solutions after the students had handed-in their homework. In such a context, refusing to do this is a fail-safe way to make many students upset very quickly. I'm quite sure about this as I tried it a few times (because I actually agree with you that giving solutions is not a particularly good way to help students learn). Sep 3, 2022 at 22:14
  • @JochenGlueck To be precise, the last one: That the questions might exceed the instructor's knowledge of the field? That answering the questions, e.g., during office hours will require too much additional time from the instructor
    – hanugm
    Sep 4, 2022 at 15:52

3 Answers 3

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I agree that pushing it off to TAs isn't the solution. Letting them work it out themselves is probably fine if the course is sufficiently rigorous that the good students (also) get a challenge.

But, an option you might consider is to have them form a formal study group to work together on things. Be open to questions from the group after they have made good attempts on hard problems. One way to do that is to schedule a half hour or so, say per week, to work with them, give them context and answer questions. This might be part of normal office hours, perhaps. This assumes reasonable scale, of course. But it also decouples such questions from class time.

A virtual group might even work. Zoom with them on occasion. Invite others, perhaps.

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I think you should ask yourself whether answering such questions would be beneficial for some of the other students in the class apart from the one who asked it.

If this is the case then working on these kind of questions is useful for your class. Presumably this will involve situations that are more like real life applications of the algorithms and less like text book examples which gives some new perspectives and insights.

If on the other hand you think this question only interests the student who asked it this already gives you a reason to not answer this in class. If the students are really into it and you are willing to spend some extra time you could organize a separate side project for this but this would be distinct from the course you are teaching.

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Be clear : If you think answering those questions isn't part of your job , then include a line e.g.

Please don't send us questions that aren't course work or topics discussed in lecture .

in the course syllabus . So everything is clear , otherwise you may embarrass and discourage students when you reject them individually later .

Q&A platforms : Redirect them to StackOverflow , or set up your platform e.g. with piazza where students discuss among themselves , you could join their discussion whenever you like .

Charge them extra $ : Read university policy and your contract first , maybe also consult your department chair . Then you may give them your private email and hint that you also happen to be a private tutor ...

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    I would be surprised to know that there is a university policy that allows you to get money from your students for "extra tutoring". It seems very problematic; it is a very slippery slope. Sep 4, 2022 at 7:05
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    -1. This answer is extraordinarily cynical. Seriously, if one cares so little about one's students' enthusiasm for learning new things that one's standard reaction to questions beyond the syllabus is "That's none of my business, unless you pay me extra $ for it", then one should seriously reconsider one's motivation for working in teaching at all. Sep 4, 2022 at 8:32

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