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I got a newly hired professor this semester. He is a good teacher but sometimes gets in trouble explaining a new topic since he writes the big formulae on the board and misses a lot of things in the process. If a student raises a question regarding any notation, then we get to know that our thought process was totally wrong.

I want to suggest using slides, which will help students get everything correct and it will save time which is usually spent on writing everything down. Also the slides can be utilized by the students in the future too.

So I just wanted to know if it will be alright for me to suggest this change to the professor.

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    What part of the world are you in?
    – cag51
    Jan 23, 2023 at 23:51
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    I don't understand "If a student raises a question regarding any notation, then we get to know that our thought process was totally wrong." What happens if you ask about the notation?
    – Daron
    Jan 25, 2023 at 0:44
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    Is the professor writing down these big formulae down out of his own head, or is he writing them down in response to student suggestions that arise in a conversation about where to go next in some derivation or computation? If it's the latter, then that's an active learning experience which is probably superior to using pre-made slides. Jan 25, 2023 at 17:56
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    @Daron IMHO what they want to say is: there are mistakes in the formulae and it is only when someone asks about the notation that they realize it was actually wrong so they have to rethink everything Jan 25, 2023 at 19:01
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    What is your role? Are you his student, coworker, supervisor, something else? Jan 25, 2023 at 19:54

12 Answers 12

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You’re not in charge of delivering lectures, and if the instructor has chosen to write on the board they have reasons to do so.

Writing on a board slows the pace and is often better at retaining the attention of students. Surely you have been in classes where the contents of too many slides is delivered at light speed.

The delivery is also less robotic and generally more engaging.

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    I see answers like this often when students ask if it is okay to make a suggestion to their lecturer: 'It is their job, not yours.' Students are indeed not in charge of the lectures, but that does not mean they cannot make suggestions. If a student had an honest, polite suggestion to improve their learning, I would definitely want to hear about it. IMO not wanting to even consider suggestions because 'The student is not in charge of delivering lectures' likely makes for a bad lecturer.
    – Chris_abc
    Jan 25, 2023 at 11:34
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    @Chris_abc sure and I agree this kind of feedback is important but IMO the time and place for this type of comment (when made constructively) is the end-of-class survey. The students will then have a more holistic view of the course and the cumulative force of multiple comments at once (if this is indeed the case) will have greater effect than individual comments made at random times during the term. Jan 25, 2023 at 13:08
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    The damage might already have been done at the end of the course. If the problem severely impairs the learning of students (getting formulas wrong IMO fits the bill), a lecturer should be made aware asap. Obviously not all feedback is fit to be implemented during the course (or should be implemented at all), but if the lecturer knows about problems, they may be able to provide a solution.
    – Chris_abc
    Jan 25, 2023 at 13:20
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    Something like “Having gone through the entire class, I feel that the statements of important theorems would benefit from being displayed on slides, so there can be no confusion on the assumptions or restrictions that apply to each precise result” would carry (for me at least) significant weight. I might or might not follow this suggestion in the future, but I would seriously consider it, especially if it came from multiple students. Jan 25, 2023 at 13:20
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    In my experience it is very normal for students and lecturers to communicate about the lectures, the material, and possible problems, e.g. during a break or at the end of a lecture. I have also had lecturers who were not open to feedback at all (mine and other students'), and those were often plainly bad lecturers. (I doubt it was a coincidence.)
    – Chris_abc
    Jan 25, 2023 at 13:22
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You can always suggest, the question is whether it will have any effect.

The issue, at its core, is that if you're a new professor, there are a million demands on your time. You need to teach, you need to write publications, you need to set up a lab, you need to hire graduate students and assistants, etc. The only reasonable solution is to make sure you are as efficient as you can possibly be, and that also means keeping the time it takes to prepare lectures to a minimum. At the same time, writing good slides for a 1-hour lecture takes around 2 hours, 2-4 times as long as it takes to just write some hand-written notes for subjects you know well. It is almost certainly a safe bet that the professor knows about Powerpoint slides, but has made the conscious decision not to use those because it takes so much time to prepare them.

But you can always try! :-)

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    And the time to prepare the slides can be even more if you need to draw many diagrams. Sometimes it took to me a few hours just for a single slide. Jan 24, 2023 at 0:16
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    writing good slides for a 1-hour lecture takes around 2 hours — for a new professor for a new course I think it takes quite a bit longer. I seem to recall a university where I did my PhD budgeted 8 hours preparation time per lecture.
    – gerrit
    Jan 24, 2023 at 8:23
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    @gerrit I think the 1-2 hours probably means that difference between writing notes and writing slides, not the total preparation time. My rule of thumb is that a one-hour lecture takes 10 hours, if from scratch. Combined with 40 hours per week, it makes it easy to calculate. So a 20-hour course = 200 hours = 5 weeks. Jan 24, 2023 at 8:48
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    Hmm... I'm not sure aobut this. Similar to @DavidA.Craven, it takes me around two full days to create a lecture. However, I disagree that it is any quicker with handwritten notes - its deciding how to convey concepts that takes time, the actaul physcial act of creating slides takes way less time than deciding exactly what to put on them. Jan 25, 2023 at 1:05
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    8 hours for one lecture seems a bit extreme to me.
    – Tom
    Jan 25, 2023 at 16:55
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I'm going to take a slightly different tack to the others here.

Personally, I'm a big fan of hand written math and hand drawn diagrams in lectures. And while there is some evidence about it being better, that is always going to be "on average". A good presenter can make slide delivery just as engaging as a chalk'n'talk, but it is difficult. An attentive professor will want to hear feedback, and will not always just believe that they know best, or that one type of delivery is equally good for all students.

I'll also add that chalk'n'talk delivery is a skill to be mastered, as is presenting from slides. No one is born good at either, and some people will be better at one form of delivery and others at a different form. It can take a professor some time to discover where their strength and weaknesses lie when they start.

Generally there will be an official mechanism for providing feedback on a course. This will often be a survey at the end of the course. You could ask the professor by informal means, and they may well take your feedback on board.

But...

  1. Don't expect a professor to change the whole way they work on the basis of your feedback alone. They may do so if it is a pattern within the feedback they receive.

  2. Don't expect a professor to change the delivery method mid-course. The die is probably cast at this point for this year.

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  • Some examples: I've had profs that used slides because they needed everything mapped out and outlined ahead of time in order to remain on-topic and on schedule. Some liked ensuring content was consistent between classes. Others had a very dynamic teaching style that incorporated student questions and input throughout, and they abhored slides because you couldn't modify the content as you went. Others used the chalkboard because they could have 5-10x as much content visible at a time. Teaching styles are as varied as learning styles, and using a different style can be just as difficult.
    – bta
    Jan 26, 2023 at 23:33
  • @bta quite. Although as profs we must also remember that different things work for different students. Jan 27, 2023 at 7:47
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As others have suggested, slides are, indeed, good for the handouts. And yes, preparing them takes time (my personal experience is, most commonly, about 8-10 hours for an hour and a half lecture, if I am not heavily reusing earlier material).

Perhaps more importantly, while there exists a range of opinions on this, there is a case to be made for black- or whiteboard. I would recommend setting aside some time and watching Patrick Winston tackle the issue. He was so good at communicating, people have asked him to deliver a lecture on public speaking, and he was delivering it for 40 years straight. And while one might consider the comparison he made between slides and a board unfair because slides were not used to their fullest, a significant part of the argument still stands. A blackboard helps the lecturer to quickly illustrate points, including addressing students' questions they would have no way of knowing of beforehand; it also helps to hold the classroom attention and concentrate. And it helps with pacing a lot.

Being an inexperienced educator is overwhelming for many (most?) people, and there are bouts of self-consciousness coming and going. "Am I speaking too fast? Too slow? Are the students following? Are they bored? Damn, I am moving really awkwardly. No, this would not do either. This shirt probably looks bad on me and this is on everyone's mind. I forgot what I was talking about. Damn it all again." Having a chalk and a board in front of you may help with keeping concentration. Some educators prefer notes. Some like slides. Some resort to multiple techniques.

If you are going to raise an issue, point out the problem, not the solution. Professors are human, too. Give them some space. They are very likely aware of some issues with their teaching and are working on them, so think of your input as an attempt at steering, it is not like they do not have their foot on the gas already. And given how much time it takes to prepare good slides and learn to work with them, I would argue that effort would be better spent addressing your more immediate concerns.

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    +1 for point out the problem, not the solution. Jan 25, 2023 at 22:26
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    the video by Patrick Winston (RIP) is brilliant and I have all my students watch it. Jan 26, 2023 at 4:31
  • @ZeroTheHero I found it bit too late myself; definitely a boon. For me, the second essential source of this caliber is "You and your research" lecture by Hamming. I wish I have seen/read both of those some time late into my BSc. Since it is a poor fit (opinion-based) for a question on SE, I will ask here - do you (or anyone reading this, really) happen to have any other "essential" suggestions? As they say - better late than never :)
    – Lodinn
    Jan 26, 2023 at 14:27
  • Thanks for the Hamming suggestion. Is this the Hamming of the "Hamming distance"? Jan 26, 2023 at 15:24
  • @ZeroTheHero Yep, that is the guy. He gives many examples from his time in Bell Labs in his talk (practically starts with humblebragging about working with Shannon for a while :)). Just in case: paulgraham.com/hamming.html. Hidden fun bit that just stood out to me: at some point taking the questions, he used "twitted" in the old sense of the word - the talk was given in '86, after all!
    – Lodinn
    Jan 26, 2023 at 15:37
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You can certainly make a suggestion, but you should not expect it will be accepted. Rather than offering this solution (which has both pros and contras some of which you don't even see from your side), just tell clearly what exactly are the issues with the presentation that bother you. For instance I now remove all stuff from the demonstration table in the room with a low blackboard because otherwise it obscures the bottom of the board to some students but I just didn't think of this issue when I started to teach. I took it for granted that the room setup would be adequate and my duty would be just to present the material using the tools available.

Such minor things should certainly be attracted attention to. The solution usually requires just a slight modification of one's blackboard technique, not anything as drastic as switching to the overhead projector (which I, personally, would never do: I improvise a lot during my lectures and spend noticeable time making comments rising from student questions on the go, often using the whole board space for a single comment). So, by all means attract the attention of your professor to the problems you experience (he may just not see them from his side like I didn't see the issue with the low blackboard for quite a long time) but leave it to him to find the best way to resolve them.

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I don't think your professor will respond well to your suggestion. If you want evidence, just look at the other answers you have received. They range from defensive to hostile.

You are experiencing a problem (mistakes in formulae) and you are offering a solution (change delivery method from whiteboard to slides).

I suggest if you want to have some influence on your professor's teaching method, you should focus first on the problem rather than the solution. As a lecturer it can be very difficult to know how students are experiencing your teaching method. As a student, it can be very difficult to know the various constraints on lecturers and decisions that lead to a particular teaching style.

Therefore, please approach your lecturer personally privately and mention that you are struggling to understand certain parts because you found the mistakes/corrections on the whiteboard too confusing. If he wants to engage in a discussion about potential solutions, you can mention your ideas.

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Yes, you can suggest to switch to slides, but it is unlikely to get the result you wish (it is a relatively crass change; and if the prof thought it would be a good idea to do that, he would already be doing it).

A better approach is usually to change yourself:

When you sit in a lecture with a chalkboard, it is a good opportunity for you to be extra attentive to what the lecturer is saying or writing on the board. The temptation may be there to just make a verbatim copy of whatever is written on the board as quickly as you can, but back in my time as a CS/maths student that was not my preferred way to do it - those sessions were usually half wasted on me, as I was so consumed by the copying process that I didn't get to really think along with the lecture.

Instead, try first and foremost to understand what the prof is trying to communicate (through words and the chalkboard). Assume that the salient points make sense, even if the presentation has errors, and then be gentle about asking questions. I mean, obviously, unless the prof makes it clear that they don't want questions - and always in a polite manner. Also, if you raise your hand, make obvious eye contact etc. and he ignores you, then so be it. Avoid interrupting verbally unless the prof is of the type that always faces the board instead of the room.

If it is just an obvious typo, then you can gloss over it and fix it yourself in your copy (maybe make a side note to check up on this). If it is a glaring error (which the prof should really have noticed), then ask if this is intentional - if it is, then this point may be something you misunderstood, and by asking, you give the prof a chance to clarify.

Finally, if you get the sense that you have no idea what's going on at all, feel free to ask your prof in the break or after the lecture; or figure out if the prof has an open hour for students.

In any case, it is always a good idea to know which textbook or other material works well with the lectures, and have it handy, to look up mysterious passages at home. The point of lectures at Uni is to act like a guideline - if the topic is relatively easy you can get away with no further studies, but thinking and working on these things afterwards should be a normal part of your process. Be glad if a prof gives great handouts, but by all means do not expect this to be the case.

This holds doubly so if you cannot get a handle on the topic during the lecture at all, and are totally confused. Don't try to somehow fix the lecture; instead try to at least get the big picture, and then work on it afterwards.

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    This answer does a lot to appeal to the authority of the professor, despite acknowledging grievous errors on the profs part. It is the job of the prof to transmit the knowledge to the student. If it were merely to present it, the prof should be replaced with a book. If the professor fails to explain errors made intentionally or not, that is a grave mistake on the prof, not the student. The prof should also be cognizant of best practices to teach his students. At the same time, it is accurately describing what the student should do to benefit the most from these intermittent poor performances.
    – David S
    Jan 25, 2023 at 15:33
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    @DavidS, I do not intend to appeal to the authority of the prof (I don't think I have anything indicating that the prof is right, or OP is wrong), but to give OP a chance to fix his issue. In the answer, I point out quite a few ways of how the OP can give feedback. If the prof is "enlightened" enough to get it, then he will change his ways. If not, then asking point black to radically switch his teaching method won't help either. And while all of that is happening on the prof's side, OP has a working chance to get the knowledge he needs... At least that's the intention of my answer. ;)
    – AnoE
    Jan 26, 2023 at 8:56
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    @DavidS The OP does seem to be relying on the professor to do something which could be better replaced with a book--provide formulas. By the time the lecture is happening the OP would ideally already be familiar with the formulas, so the copy on the board is not the one for notes but just a quick reference to put the lecture in context. Jan 26, 2023 at 20:10
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For what it's worth... I've had several professors that were pretty neutral about board vs. slides and were quite fine with doing whatever the majority of the class preferred.

I wouldn't have put this as an answer except that most of the other answers assume the professor is... highly opinionated on which to use.

They do both have pros and cons. Also, as others have mentioned, a new professor may not have prepared slides and they do take significant additional time.

One of my professors actually had a touchscreen laptop with a pen and used slides, but would then draw on them to illustrate more interactive bits and pieces and to answer questions where it was useful.

Other professors indeed did have a preferred style and that's what you were going to get. I think it is worth bringing up once respectfully, but don't expect it to change and don't push it if they aren't willing to.

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Of course you are free to suggest it. Slides have the advantage of being retrievable after the lecture. But there are many pedagogical advantages of using handwritten notes

  1. On a large board, several slide-equivalent notes remain visible at a time allowing students to see connections between the current talking point and what came before. This allows students to build connections, and it is also clearer when the lecturer wants to refer back to a previous concept
  2. Visually processing the lecturer writing notes while also talking is a much more active process than watching a lecture drive a powerpoint like a tractor down a field. Powerpoints at their worst can be mind-numbing, and even when done well often still feel disjointed.
  3. Hand-written lecture allows, perhaps even invites, impromptu discussion/questions. 3-bullet point slides discourage this as many in the audience may not want to ask a question about the first bullet until the entire slide is read

Here is a link to a remembrance article about the physicist John Wheeler. Page 2 shows a beautiful series of chalkboard images from a lecture he gave in 1971. https://www.its.caltech.edu/~kip/PubScans/VI-50.pdf

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    4. Pacing! It's very easy to blow through a slide full of complicated formulas or diagrams before the students have a chance to write down what they need. If you're writing it on the board, then you're moving at the same pace they are so they're much less likely to miss something.
    – bta
    Jan 26, 2023 at 23:38
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You can suggest him to use both slides and chalkboard (whiteboard?). They are both useful in their own ways. However, professors sometimes use textbooks and chalkboards instead of using slides.

By using the chalkboard, the professor can show his students his thought process instead of reading the slides, which is a boring task.

As a mathematics student, I love preparing slides in LaTeX, but it will never fully replace chalkboards.

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    I love preparing slides in LaTeX --- My experience, not very much with slides (haven't taught since 2005), but with detailed LaTeX handouts (hardcopies) for students which is probably somewhat similar, is that this is great for the teacher to learn the subject super-well, but not so great for students -- too much spoon-feeding. Of course, long formulas and derivations might best be handed out to students (printed documents or .pdf or other digital means), so that the students and teacher can focus on the ideas and not so much on "copy-editing and proofing" the formulas and equations. Jan 24, 2023 at 17:49
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Focus on the Problem

The professor is unlikely to take your suggestion to switch to slides. As other people have said, making slides takes time the professor probably doesn't have during term. Slides are often made before the term starts and reused over several terms.

Instead focus on the problem. The problem is not the lack of slides. The problem is you do not understand the notation.

Keep asking about the notation during lessons. Encourage your friends ask about the notation too. Good Professors like when you ask questions. It lets them know whether the students understand or not. In this case it seems you do not understand:

If a student raises a question regarding any notation, then we get to know that our thought process was totally wrong.

This sounds like you think the notation means one thing, but after someone asks, you find out it means something else entirely. You think $x_1^2$ is the square of some number $x_1$. But it is supposed to be the entry in matrix $x$ in row $1$ and column $2$.

If you are confused by the notation, so are other students.

This is bad. You should definitely pester your professor with questions about it. Every question requires the professor to pause the lecture to answer it. The goal is to have so many questions during lectures, and so much time spent answering the questions, that the professor rethinks their notation or starts making better teaching notes. He decides in advance exactly how to write down the formulae for every lecture and write notes for himself.

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I think that you will have more success in asking for precise material (a specific formula you need to know, urls, etc.) to be provided digitally.

Making your own notes is a significant learning tool, but that is conceptual, not about writing down detailed data (you may need to access the url - the content at the address, but do not need to "understand" the url itself).

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