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Next semester I will be at another university taking several subjects. I want to ask the professors there for the materials they use in class before my arrival, so that I can study them before the start of the course, or at least have a general idea of everything they are going to give.

Is it appropriate to ask them about their entire course's materials? Might it come across as pretentious or irritating? (Especially considering they don't know me or even have ever seen me at that university.)

Is there a concrete way to do it politely? Am I just exaggerating and there is nothing to fear? For example, I wonder what to do if they don't answer and whether it's appropriate to ask them again.

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    Are you enrolled in the course and will you be sending from an email address affiliated with that university? Both of these will help.
    – Kimball
    Jan 12 at 2:12
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    Have you looked for the courses' web pages? Or any trouble finding whether there is one? Jan 12 at 5:26
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    I hope you are not one of those who gets the notes and then rarely attends the lectures.
    – GEdgar
    Jan 13 at 18:04
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    I am enrolled as an exchange student, so yes, I sent the mails through the university email.
    – IAG
    Jan 13 at 19:30
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    I have looked to the courses web pages, but they just have a description and some points. I study mathematics, so I would like to get a bit ahead to fully enjoy lectures and be able to comprehend them in a deeper level than just going "to see what happens".
    – IAG
    Jan 13 at 19:32

6 Answers 6

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I would treat such a request as appropriate and might be able to send you or point you to some things. Others might not respond at all, so don't be disappointed.

Make your note short, less than a page, with a brief explanation, a request for anything available, and a thanks for any response.

A follow up could start to be irritating, and it might take a while to respond, depending on too many things to list here. So, be patient, at least.

And, this is a situation in which it might be deemed more appropriate not to share things, depending on the course and how it is to be managed. And, such things might not be available for distribution and might not even exist early on.

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    As mentioned in the comments OP should start by checking what is already available online on the professor or the course website. If the material is there, emailing the professor will be seen as irritating.
    – quarague
    Jan 12 at 7:21
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    A good rule to keep in mind is that you can ask for these materials, but you are (most likely) not entitled to them. Make sure never to imply that the teacher has an obligation to send you anything ahead of time. Or even to answer promptly, since they likely have to do many urgent things that students are entitled to. Jan 13 at 12:34
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Before the semester, I would send you (1) the syllabus and (2) the name of the textbook. R1NaNo's answer prompted me to say that I've mostly taught major classes on the smaller side, so my answer is about those, not large lectures, and I agree you'd be more likely to get them in that context.

I would not send you my presentations, which it sounds like what you're asking for. Why?

  1. They're not done (I'm early career, and your mileage may vary with other instructors).
  2. I want the ability to modify them without confusing/upsetting you.
  3. When I teach a course, the materials are designed to go together. My slides are not designed to be learned from without me talking and without asking questions, so that is not a product I necessarily want to "publish" or share.
  4. They build on one another in an intentional way. If you're really excited about Unit 4, I don't necessarily want you skipping Units 1-3.

Furthermore, many professors do not supply their slide decks at all (for various reasons, including pedagogical ones that I'm not sure I disagree with). In short, I would find a request for all of my materials entitled and a little inappropriate.

Start with the syllabus - although if it's only a few days before the semester starts, I wouldn't bother.

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    No dispute here, but I would probably be willing to share slides, if available, even with a caveat they weren't finalized and were not for redistribution. As I noted, people differ in such things, with valid reasons.
    – Buffy
    Jan 11 at 15:23
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    It wasn't the question asked, but sending out slides to everyone a couple of days before they are to be used (end of previous class period, say) can be useful. Among other things, they can ease note taking.
    – Buffy
    Jan 11 at 15:25
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    >Presentations are designed to be presented, not to be studied on their own. \\ I'm very curious what it means. The ultimate point of the class is to give students knowledge in any way possible, and not just to make attendance.
    – Mihail
    Jan 11 at 19:09
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    @Mihail When I teach a course, the materials are designed to go together. Have you ever heard the advice to put bullet points on a slide and to not just read off your slides? This means that my slides are not designed to be learned from without me talking and without asking questions, so that is not a product I necessarily want to "publish" or share. I also find that the more you enable people to skip class, the worse they tend to do. So, on average, I don't find a lot of benefits to the student to do this (after all, the course is designed to work without reading all the material first ...) Jan 11 at 19:20
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    @TrangOul I could, but I don’t think that’s less confusing or good for the students. Jan 12 at 15:11
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Dear Prof. X,

[introduce yourself briefly.]

I was wondering if you had any materials related to the course (such as slides or notes) that you might be willing to share before the course starts. This would be very helpful to me in getting a head start, but of course I fully understand that you might not be able to share course materials in advance.

Thank you, IAG

I do not recommend asking for "their entire course materials", this indeed sounds a bit entitled to me.

Whether they "have seen you at that university", on the other hand, is most likely going to be entirely irrelevant to the professor, as is your concern about sounding "pretentious".

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I think it's fair enough to ask.

Depending on which class, my response would vary.

General service class I have to teach every few semesters? Sure knock yourself out. I'll even given you the suggested reading and problem sets. It's a class of 400 and historically 250 show up at best anyway (ironically that's not far off from the typical pass rate).

Advanced or graduate class? The answer is no. The slides are subject to change up to 10 minutes before the class. Why? Because I am actively thinking about it, constantly updating it, and responding to prior performance on quizzes. What I can offer you is some suggested general reading.

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Most colleges and universities in the US use Learning Management Systems (LMSes—these are systems like Moodle, Canvas, BlackBoard, etc.). When I teach a class, I upload any course materials intended for students to whatever LMS my institution uses. If your institution uses an LMS, I would suggest that your first stop should be there—log into the the LMS, and see if your instructor has posted anything.

After you have checked the LMS, then it is reasonable and appropriate to email the instructor if there is some material which you think might be missing. Send the email from an institutional email address—many universities and colleges have pretty aggressive spam filtering, and messages sent from outside of the institution might be "quarantined" or never delivered. Keep it short, don't make demands, leave out irrelevant details, and be specific:

Dr Henderson,

I am enrolled in [Course Number and Section]. I have checked the LMS and see that you have posted [a syllabus | notes | whatever] and that the text book for the class is [whatever]. Are there any other materials that I need or that you can provide to me before the semester starts, such as lecture slides or homework assignments?

Thanks much,
[Student Name]

Note that the response is very likely to be "It is all on the LMS" or "It will be on the LMS shortly". Note also that some instructors will be happy to share additional materials with you, and others will not. Some instructors have slide-decks or written notes that are prepped and ready to go long before the semester begins; while other instructors (like myself) tend to leave preparation until not long before the class actually meets, in order make changes in response to class performance and needs.

I would also be slow to follow up. The beginning of the semester is often a rough time—classes are being moved around and reassigned to different instructors in order to meet student demand, instructors are prepping for the first day of class and are very likely overwhelmed with requests from students, administrators, advisors, and other parties. My own institution has a policy of requiring that emails be answered within two business days, so following up on the third day is not unreasonable, but it is also worth it to give your instructors grace and understanding—they are probably almost as stressed out as you are right now.

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    I'm going to be honest, I very much disagree. If you check the LMS, and it looks fleshed out, then that's all there is. Jan 13 at 4:04
  • @AzorAhai-him- I don't necessarily disagree, but I do think that one of the things that students can do to be successful in their classes is to learn how to communicate with their instructors. Politely asking if there are any additional materials is not inappropriate. Though I suppose that some instructors will react differently. Jan 13 at 4:08
  • In any event, the main point is that students should start by checking the LMS (and the syllabus), but that they should be comfortable reaching out to an instructor with additional queries. I've made a small edit which, I think, addresses this better. Jan 13 at 4:09
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The only potential faux pas here is acting entitled to the course materials in advance. The exact rules will vary from institution to institution but generally speaking you should expect to receive the course syllabus on the first day of class, the assignment details on the day they are assigned, and the course notes/slides (if offered at all) after the corresponding lecture.

Some professors may have materials on hand in advance and be happy to share them with you, so it doesn't hurt to ask politely. You should not expect such materials to be available for the same reason I do not expect students to turn in their homework weeks in advance.

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