Couple months back I registered in a class that I was really interested in. Gradually, I started to lose interest in the class. Now we just had a midterm, needless to say I am at the nadir of my interest for this class. There are just so many things wrong with it I honestly do not know if I want to continue.

What's wrong with this class (from a student's perspective):

  • All the notes are dated back from 2012 on the bottom right corner when it was taught by another professor, obviously no updates were necessary between then and now...along with the typos
  • Prof's hand writing is pure chaos, no one can understand his writing but no one brings it up since it is a huge class (diffused responsibility I guess)
  • The lab is too lengthy. There are so many things needed to be done during the lab that the work must be divided into 3 - 5 people. Needless to say no one sees the full picture by the end of it.
  • The course is divided into concepts and calculations, all homework exams on calculations, all quizzes are on calculations, the TA only knows calculation (he doesn't want to spend time looking at the concepts it seems)...but exams is on concept, no calculation required. I don't know if I could have foreseen this the next time around.
  • Prof reads off of the slides for entire lecture at a rate of 1< minute per slide. With this volume of material, it is unsurprising that large parts are ignored when it comes to exam. No one attempts to learn anything because any learning could potentially be a massive waste of time and it has been from my own experience. Goes back to the lack of focus.
  • These slides are posted lecture by lecture basis. So no pre-reading occurs, no one knows what is covered next

  • The slides are based off of an extremely wordy book and large portions are skipped at a time during the lecture, no one has a clue where in the book the prof is teaching. It is more than chapter hopping, it is chapter teleportation.

  • The course requires two books. One of which is sold on the campus bookstore, the other cannot be found anywhere. You'd think in today's age there would be a pdf version of it, but no there isn't (for a while I thought it didn't actually exist). And you could only get it off of Amazon. Strangely the prof insists on pulling questions from that book. I still couldn't quite figure out how to do those questions since the symbols are literally not found anywhere else
  • Here's the kicker, this class has prof rotation more than the number of years since the course has been established, each prof has different styles thereby leading to unpredictable exam coverage and unreliable past exams/midterms. In the past I have dealt with these types of courses by studying the past exams, but now that option is gone.

I want to bring this up to the professor himself, but 99.9% chance he will claim that there is one or two guys who are pulling 100% on the exams so I could do it too. Furthermore, there seems very little he can do to manage the situation. I think this is just how this course was taught in the past and he is not interested in changing the status quo.

What can I do as a student to try to adjust my learning experience for the better while I am in a situation such as this? Would it help bringing it up to the department that is offering the course?

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    This is mostly a rant. For example, rotation of professors is something uninteresting for students, since they only get to see one of those professors. Getting to see past exams is not an option for many courses (it was never an option before the Internet era). The professor also has the right not to give slides before the class. Lab work done in groups is also very common (and sometimes better than working on your own). – Alexandros Mar 4 '15 at 12:12
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    If your question is whether you should continue in the class, continue if it is required. Otherwise drop it if you don't like it. – mac389 Mar 4 '15 at 13:11

TL;DR the prof will never know which things are problems if you don't go to office hours and talk about it. Mind reading is not a requirement for tenure.

If there are typos in the notes that don't affect readability, deal with them. The professor probably has better things to do than chase typos. However, I know that many professors will fix typos that are pointed out to them by students (in a nice way). If the typos affect readability, which I doubt since the notes have already been used for a class, bring it up in office hours with specific examples. If your prof is not completely unreasonable, they will look over the notes, or have the TA do it, to fix serious mistakes.

Handwriting: bring it up in office hours. You say yourself that no one has mentioned it, and you can't expect the prof to read your minds. You say it's a large class, which means that what may be perfectly readable at the front of a lecture theatre could be terrible at the back. The prof will not know this unless you point it out since they are at the front of the room.

Labs done in groups are standard. Learn to deal with it. Make sure you know the material the lab will cover, and that you read the instructions well enough to understand the purpose of the lab beforehand. If you don't understand, discuss it with everyone else in the group, and ask whoever supervises the lab until you do. That should help with your problem.

This may come as a surprise to you, but TAs are sometimes assigned to TA classes they have not taken themselves. We also have a full course load of our own, so we can't always study the material of the class, past what we need to know to grade homeworks and quizzes. It sounds like the TA can do the parts of the class they are involved in (homeworks and quizzes), which is all you really can demand.

As for the slides, I had a professor who did this (reading off slides, going too fast to follow). We went and talked to him, and explained that it was hard to follow someone just reading mathematical proofs from a slide, and he changed his teaching style a little. He started posting the relevant chapters in the book online well before the next lecture, so we could prepare, and went over the more involved proofs on the board. Class quality improved drastically. Like with the handwriting, if you don't tell your prof, they can't read your mind. Just make sure you do so in a non-confrontational manner, and with plenty of suggestions on what they could do instead, like "It's difficult to follow a proof with lots of notation that takes seven slides. I think it would be easier to follow if you wrote the more involved proofs on the board".

For the chapter teleporting, ask the prof to provide a syllabus with which chapters will be covered on which day. This will help you follow the lecture better.

If the second book can be found on Amazon, that is hardly the same thing as "the book could be found nowhere". If the second book is also required for the course, it is hardly strange that the prof keeps pulling questions from it.

Studying past exams is a privilege in some classes. Before the internet, this hardly ever happened. If you can't for this class, that's something you have to adjust for when you revise for the final. You can ask the prof if he taught the class before, and if the exams from that year are available anywhere, but if he says no, deal with it. Everyone in the class is in the same situation.

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    I wish more students would come to my office hours to provide constructive feedback. We don't know if a problem exists if no one brings it up. And there are those of us who are more than willing to try and change if that means making us more effective for the student. – LordStryker Mar 4 '15 at 14:12
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    @LordStryker I usually go provide feedback, and I've never had any negative reactions from the professor. I think most professors think like you, but many students are afraid that you will be insulted. – Johanna Mar 4 '15 at 17:15
  • @Johanna: I routinely fix typos that are pointed out by students and thank each student who points one out. (I also tend to discover them myself in classes rather than during preparation, which may or may not say anything about me.) – Bob Brown Mar 4 '15 at 18:08
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    @BobBrown Most profs I've come across do. There was just one who got annoyed, but he was not a very nice person in general... On the other hand, I've had one who had a competition where whoever found the most typos got a bar of chocolate at the end of the semester. – Johanna Mar 4 '15 at 19:15
  • @Johanna I'll have to remember that... but most of my students are male. Maybe a pizza coupon or something. – Bob Brown Mar 5 '15 at 3:14

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