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This is my first time posting here and I apologize if this is not in the relevant forum or site. My question is: is it possible to approach professors to changing their teaching style? and if so, how would it be best to approach this topic?

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    What kind of thing are you proposing that they change, and for what reason? An example might be helpful. – ff524 Apr 10 '14 at 22:19
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    The best way to approach it is very carefully. – Chris Leary Apr 11 '14 at 1:13
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    In my school, all students in a course were required to evaluate the professor at the midway and final part of the course. Submissions can be anonymous and there are sections for providing feedback that is not on a 1-10 scale. Look into seeing if your school has methods for providing feedback. Keep in mind that you can simply ask them directly, as they can't change your mark because of it, but it may be wise to do it anonymously through the schools provided systems for feedback. – TheOneWhoPrograms Apr 11 '14 at 11:06
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It depends on what your goal is.

If you have a particular course and a particular professor, and you want to see changes before the course ends, you may need some political power or not. Many professors appreciate feedback, some don't, and you can usually tell by noting which ones ask for it. If they do ask, follow their format for giving feedback, and add a note saying that you have more specific suggestions if they wish to discuss it further. If they don't, you will either have to drop it or try a different tactic.

If the course has teaching assistants, you can usually give some feedback through them, although to promote understanding, you might give them a copy in writing to hand to the professor. If there are none, you may have to submit feedback through the department; there usually are people in that department in charge of the quality of teaching, and they can advise you at least as well as on this forum.

If the issue is more with a person than a situation, then I recommend getting advice from colleagues of that person on how to make such an approach. Through the department is likely the best way, but it highly depends on the situation.

If the issue is more with a class structure than a person, you can make suggestions, but they will likely be referred to the next class.

The applicability of all of the above is subject to class size, level of instruction, and many other factors. Without more specifics, I imagine your best answer in the long run is by using official channels. That way if anything goes wrong, the process can be blamed and not you.

  • thanks for the advice. It falls more under class structure (it is a straight 3 hour class). It's hard to follow with top-notched concentration especially if it becomes more of a teacher-led spiel than a student-led discussion. – Lisa Apr 12 '14 at 7:11
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    @Lisa, then I suggest getting together some like minded students who would support changes you suggest, and then ask the "official channel" people first how to approach asking the professor to change, and what issues might prevent it. They at least can tell you "Prof. X is cranky, I suggest alternative B". There may also be administrative reasons beyond X's control for prohibiting change. If you have a rapport with X, you can probably try a reasonable direct approach, but not just for one student. Again, I am guessing this is an average class, and this won't work for all situations. – Not Quite An Outsider Apr 15 '14 at 18:14
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One thing you might to do is go to office hours and ask thoughtfully prepared questions.

"I looked over my notes on X, and I still don't understand how it's related to the rest of the material. Could you please explain further?

"The theory is interesting, but I'm still confused as to how this applies to examples. Could you suggest where I should learn about these?"

"When you talk about Y, I gather I'm supposed to have mastered that already, but actually I haven't. Where should I learn about this?"

Possible outcomes vary. Maybe you will find that you signed up for a different course than you should have; maybe the professor won't care; but possibly, the professor will take your questions as some evidence that h/she should adjust his/her teaching strategy a little bit. (And will also answer them!)

  • thanks for the advice. I just schedule an appointment with the professor and will keep those things in mind! – Lisa Apr 13 '14 at 0:52
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I think there is a misunderstanding. Although professors are hired by the university to serve the learning experience of the students (among other things), they are not "hired" by the students. This is a logical misunderstanding in US universities where students pay tuition but this model does not apply to the rest of the world. In this sense, professors, like all regular employees should and are evaluated (in terms of performance) only by their employer (university / state) and not the customer / student. Also, professors stay in many cases, for many years in the same institution where students (undergraduates mostly) stay for a limited amount of time. Therefore although the student might or not pay for the university services he is bound to leave eventually, whereas the professor probably outstays generations of students.

With that being said, one student's opinion is not really relevant. If the university has some sort of professor evaluation by the students, then the student by all means should clearly express his opinion. But going to a professor and just saying "I do not like your teaching style. Change it" is simply rude (and I say that as a student myself). How can I tell someone how to do his work when I have not done it myself? The same goes for all employees from waiters to bouncers (there such comments might get you in trouble), unless the employee has been rude to you and you must defend yourself. In all other cases, you should not tell people how to do their job, you can only tell them how you like to be treated. If you do not like the way they do business you must find someone else that suits your style. In universities where the professor grades you (and not the other way around) I would suggest even extra caution.

You should also not forget that your guess on what is wrong or right is based on only one opinion (yours and your friends) where the professor has based his teaching style on hundreds - thousands of students. His style might or might not suit you. There is not one-size-fits-all. But why he has to change his style for you, when the things you propose might alienate other students? The answer is simple. In 99% of the cases he simply will not. Also consider the fact that probably your comment on his teaching style will not even be an original one (somewhen, somewhere some other student might have expressed a similar discontent to yours).

So, what can you do? Negotiate. Ask him / her for more slides if he has any; Ask him for more personal assignments or for pointing you to extra reading material, basically everything that will help you benefit more from his class. Ask him to repeat what you did not understand. But most of all ask nicely and with respect. That way if he says no, it will be his fault and not yours.

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    Your 3rd paragraph does many professors far too much credit. From experience, 'good' ones will think about teaching style and content format to be as clear as possible to as many people as possible (sometimes unsuccessfully, but they are typically very open to feedback, agreeing or not). 'Bad' ones will put up lecture notes often no more helpful than a textbook, whip through them as fast as possible, failing to appreciate that their content is opaque to a novice, explaining everything in only one way: the way they understand it. Student representatives or teaching committee best in this case. – Sam Apr 11 '14 at 11:59
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    @Sam. Even in those cases you mention, going to them and saying you do not like their teaching will probably do more harm than good. – Alexandros Apr 11 '14 at 13:55
  • I agree entirely, an approach should always be phrased more along the lines of 'Could you please go slower over the maths/diagrams/graphs/formulae/schema? I am having difficulty following' or (particularly good if a small group of you go) 'I/We didn't really understand x/y/z, could you explain it a different way'. Then, after they explain (and you hopefully understand!) you can say 'That was really helpful, might it be worth wording it like that to the rest of the class?' This second method is a good way of non-confrontationally causing the lecturer to re-explain something better. – Sam Apr 11 '14 at 15:45
  • @Alexandros, thanks for your comment. it really gave me another perspective on the matter. Just curious, can your analogy be extended-- employees are evaluated by their employer, but their employers often evaluate employees according by comments from customers (hence comment cards in the service industry)? as there's only 1 month left in the semester, maybe it's best just to keep quiet... Thanks. – Lisa Apr 12 '14 at 6:54
  • @Sam thanks for the great advice. A little off tangent, but I'm going to try adopt that as card system for some students I'm tutoring! – Lisa Apr 12 '14 at 6:59
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I suggest the following:

  1. Ask students who have take that course before.

  2. Look at ratemyprofessors website for his/her reviews.

  3. If there is no past info about him, then ask a "smart"/"deep" questions POLITELY in class. If he get angry, then he probably not like your suggestion to change teach style.

  4. Ask other students too to see if they have same problems. Then, you will know that its not just you. If only you have problem and most people "get it", then you can take their help instead of prof.

  5. If all 1 to 4 are okay, then politely suggest improvements. Show him what you have not understand and how he can explain better. If you need more problem solving in a class, then request for it. Choose words carefully.

  • btw, in my university, manners is important. To see example of civilize interaction with Dr.Yemmek, you might want to see video in my user profile. I hope you like ! It is nice ! I like. – Borat Sagdiyev Apr 11 '14 at 7:20
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    thanks for your advice! Ratemyprofessors is hit/miss IMO especially if the faculty member is fairly new. – Lisa Apr 12 '14 at 7:03
  • @Lisa - yes, that is why the other points are there. btw, let us know how it goes. Chenqui. – Borat Sagdiyev Apr 12 '14 at 22:09
  • @Lisa, ratemyprofessor will mostly be miss because the data shows an overwhelming bias. – Joel DeWitt Oct 29 '15 at 17:34

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