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Arguably the most time-consuming component of teaching is preparation of study material (especially when in comes to a fresh lecturer of a new module).

  1. First of all, every presentation should have slides. Who takes a lecturer without slides seriously? (with the only exception of, perhaps, really senior professors). If one dares to use a black- or whiteboard, students will take pictures on their iPhones instead of following the lecture, pretending they will follow it at home, which they never do. And students who miss the lecture will complain, since the slides are not available.
  2. Secondly, some question / exercise sheets are important to keep students entertained and busy in class / tutorial.
  3. Question sheets imply answer sheets, with (some) of solutions worked out, to help students prepare to the assessments.
  4. Lecture notes, to collect all relevant information in one place, and save students some trouble looking for it in various textbooks. Helps with those students who are hip enough to never use a library.
  5. Practice instructions, to carry out lab classes.

This is just a basic list, which comes to my mind, and I'm sure that other types of study / supporting materials are used in teaching.

I've heard rumours about some loci amoeni universities in the US, which provide their lecturers with all (or most) of these materials, professionally prepared by academic publishers. Apparently, this is not the case in the UK, at least not at every university. And I can now appreciate, that preparation of all these materials to every lecture / tutorial class can take a very considerable time.

Question: How do we decide, which materials are the most important for the class, and which are not? How do we assess, that the amount of materials prepared is sufficient?

Specs (by popular request): I am teaching Maths at BSc and MSc level in the UK. However, I would appreciate answers regardless your discipline / profile.

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    I'm a math grad student. Through my university career, exactly one professor has used slides. Only a handful provided lecture notes. The only thing from your list all my professors have provided is question sheets. I think you need to narrow down your question to a specific subject. – Johanna Jun 1 '15 at 20:55
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    I would question whether any of this is actually mandatory, especially #1. The onus on the student using the material is on the student, not the instructor. Didn't make it to lecture? Provide a reasonable explanation and a copy will be provided to you. Whether or not you write on a blackboard, papyrus, or a slide, the only person who will be studying that material will be someone who actually wants to study it. – Compass Jun 1 '15 at 20:56
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    I have taught multiple lecture courses using only the blackboard, because I believe it slows down the pace of the course and prevent "information overload." However, I do make my notes available afterwards. – aeismail Jun 1 '15 at 20:58
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    "Who takes a lecturer without slides seriously?" Do you mean that in almost 20 years of teaching I've never been taken seriously by my students?! Gosh, you've spoiled my whole academic life... I'm doomed, what can I do now? Should I make a sacrifice to the gods of powerpoint? – Massimo Ortolano Jun 1 '15 at 22:27
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    First of all, every presentation should have slides. — [citation needed] I haven't used slides in the classroom for at least 15 years. (And when I did, they were actual pieces of plastic that I'd written on by hand.) – JeffE Jun 2 '15 at 3:56
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Use backward design, start with what you'd like the students to become or to achieve at the end of the course. Then, according to each of these "wishes," determine the best way to collect evidence on learning, and according to each of these evidence, design the teaching/learning experience. Formats should not drive the contents; it's the experience you wish to achieve that drives the formats. If lecture with slides is the best way, then lecture with slides; do not add lecture with slides because it's your institute's status quo.

Here are some of my anecdotes addressing your points:

First of all, every presentation should have slides. Who takes a lecturer without slides seriously? (with the only exception of, perhaps, really senior professors).

Teaching in a US university, I have started to see students showing excitement because a certain lecturer does not use slides in the class as early as 2010. That got me start thinking if slides are still a viable teaching tool. After some thought, I made the decision to go slide-free and have complete done away with slides two years ago.

I like the format so far because slides had been acting as an invisible wall between me and the students. Just because I have clicked through them does not mean I have taught them. However, I felt safe behind the screen, and perhaps had grown to relish that false security too much.

I replaced the slides with what I call a "learner's package" (more details below) and I immediately felt a lot better. There are more discussions, questions, and interaction. The questions became a lot more spontaneous. In the beginning it can be daunting, but once I got into the rhythm I can never go back to the slides. As of now, four cycles into this new scheme, 80 students taught, and none of them complained the lack of slides in the evaluation.

If one dares to use a black- or whiteboard, students will take pictures on their iPhones instead of following the lecture, pretending they will follow it at home, which they never do.

It's not if they will or will not follow up; it's if you have structured the activities or evaluation exercises to make them follow up or not. If there is no reason, why would they be motivated to look at something they have already archived?

And students who miss the lecture will complain, since the slides are not available.

Many technological solutions here: e.g. First, make it clear in the syllabus that it's their responsibility to solicit notes from their peer if they miss a class. Second, consider video-taping your lecture. Third, consider using screen capture with audio recording if you will be using slides. Talk to your IT folks for possible supports.

Secondly, some question / exercise sheets are important to keep students entertained and busy in class / tutorial.

While I love the idea of enriching the types of formats and interactions, it should be based on the desirable outcomes of the course, and not based on entertainment (though I sense that your questions are portrayed with a bit of sarcasm). Different types of format have their pedagogical pros and cons and they should be used to best fit what you want to achieve.

Question sheets imply answer sheets, with (some) of solutions worked out, to help students prepare to the assessments.

I'd disagree with making it a routine to provide answers; this can cause them to rely on the eventually available right answers. Instead, I'd suggest base the questions on a defined set of skills (that you can point to at a section of the text, or on a certain page of the notes) with mild to moderate modification. That way, you can point them to the section to see how similar questions are solved, and encourage them to revise their answer.

If possible, base your answer scheme on instant feedback of the class's performance. E.g. if last week's quiz shows that only 35% of the class got question 6 correct, then consider making a detailed answer scheme for that.

Use your teaching assistants. Make them try your questions. They can i) find typos or errors, ii) give you a sense of how much time was needed to complete each question (multiply it with a factor of 1.5 to 3.0 to factor in the fact that the TAs probably can complete the exercise in a shorter time,) iii) draft the model answers.

Lecture notes, to collect all relevant information in one place, and save students some trouble looking for it in various textbooks. Helps with those students who are hip enough to never use a library.

I agree a one-stop reference point would be helpful. It can be a set of notes or a list of materials hosted on the online learning website (like Blackboard.)

In my "learner's package," I included the followings:

  • List of learning objectives
  • Learning resources, which include corresponding sections in the textbook, readings, videos, etc.
  • Self-assessments. This section contains a list of activities and exercise with answers for students to test their own understanding. It's not graded.
  • Lesson evaluation. This section details how the students will be evaluated formally. I often put the link to the weekly quiz here. And if appropriate I also suggest some mile stone that they should achieve in this week with their personal final project. (I provide rubrics and so, but this answer is long enough so I'll save it for another day.)
  • All the notes, with citations.
  • In-class exercise and activities.
  • I use the Tufte LaTeX codes to compose the notes. I picked it because of its pleasant layout and ample amount of space for students to write.

Lastly, here are some titles that have inspired me with trying different instructional designs (I'm not affiliated with these authors nor Amazon.com):

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A short answer (not snide or sarcastic) to "How much course material is necessary?":

As much as is necessary for all sorts of students to effectively learn and meet the course objectives.

This depends on the varying skill and background of students who take the course, your teaching approach, the nature of the course (i.e. where do students have the most difficulty, etc.). As a student, I always appreciated more study material, and was frequently frustrated by too little study material.


Longer answer:

You could use a "Management By Objectives" approach to teaching. (see Peter Drucker) This goes beyond just listing "Course Objectives", which usually just enumerate statements like this: "The student should master X, Y, and Z".

I suggest created a list of Teaching Objectives for yourself, and Learning Objectives for students. The Teaching Objectives apply to the work you do and the goals you need meet, and likewise for the student's Learning Objectives.

These objectives should not be generic. They should apply uniquely to you -- your teaching style, your strengths and weaknesses, etc. They should apply uniquely to the types of students you get in the course -- their background, their capabilities, their strengths and weaknesses, etc. Most of all, a good set of objectives help you and your students focus on a few key things that deserve special attention and make the most difference in success. (Avoid "laundry list" objectives that includes every little task you and they need to do. These are not "to-do" lists of activities to "check off" when completed.)

After you create these two sets of objectives, ask yourself: "What sorts of teaching experiences and learning experiences will be most effective in achieving these objectives?" (Teaching and learning are complementary, and not perfect substitutes.) Generally, sometimes "repetition" is most effective (e.g. memorizing multiplication tables). Sometimes, "trial and error" experiences are most effective. Sometimes, "watch a demonstration, and then imitate" is most effective. Sometimes, Socratic questioning and debate is most effective.

FINALLY ask: What sorts of course materials support these teaching and learning experiences? If "learning by repetition" is most important, then you need lots of material that supports (rewarding) repetition by students. If Socratic dialog is most effective, then class lecture notes are either unimportant or detrimental. This is where academic research in Education might be able to inform you.

Too often, course material is designed for one type of student. The value of your course will be significantly raised if you design course material for the diverse range of students you are likely to encounter. Please don't assume that students who do poorly in the course "aren't good enough" or "didn't try hard enough". Those same students might do much better if the course material was better suited to them.


What ever you choose to do, you don't have to rely only on your own past experience or what professors in your university have always done. There is abundant research on the topic of effectiveness of course material relative to various subjects, levels, and teaching methods. It is a specialty within the discipline of Education. I mention this not because they have the answer, but because you might be able to find evidence for or against any given type of course material.


While you are thinking about this topic, have you considered computer-based study materials? If your course has significant math content, then interactive coursework using Mathematica, MatLab, iPython Notebook, or R could replace much of the traditional material (exercise sheets, answer sheets, lecture notes, etc.)

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At first I thought that this question is too opinion-based but I think some general rules can be worked out. However, I think that an answer is always depending on the field.

I follow your numbering:

  1. What for? I barely ever use slides except for showing verbatim quotes. The students are old enough to know what they have to write down and what not. If not, they are anyway unfit for academia.

  2. Most discussions arise from the topic treated in the lecture. Therefore I do not really prepare questions. I challenge the students with statements they have to prove or disprove. It's my job to make them think on their own, not to answer prefab questions. If they can't do that: again, unfit for academia.

  3. Irrelevant (cf 2.)

  4. Academic research is all about finding ways to get the information you need. If one can't do it for something as simple as an exam (where you know the topics), then one's surely not fit for academia.

  5. In my case irrelevant (liberal arts), but the disputes mentioned in 2. come very close. But as I wrote there: I do not really prepare the discussions. They arise from the ductus of the lecture.

The tl;dr answer: It's all about experience. You'll figure out what to prepare for which class.

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    While this answer certainly is pragmatic and based on the author's experience, I object to the values expressed in the author's frequent repetition of "...unfit for academia". This attitude is common among professors (and many students) but it has mostly detrimental effects -- both on those individual students who are stigmatized in this way and on the culture of the department or institution in general. In my opinion, once students are in your class, it's your job to teach them and help them be successful. – MrMeritology Jun 1 '15 at 22:00
  • There's also issues about making reasonable adjustments to make your classes accessible to a diverse range of students. An exclusive attitude like this is unhealthy for the industry. – Rikki Jun 2 '15 at 0:33
  • @MrMeritology : I disagree; this is a typical Western (if not typical American) point of view. We live a luxury life where failure means in worst case that we have to try again in something else. In most parts of the world failures can be deadly. Furthermore we deal with adults. In the corporate sector nobody is going to help you either. If you can't deliver as expected, you're out of business. Plus you take my words too hard. Knowing where to find information also includes going to ask people who know, which includes your professors as well. – Patric Hartmann Jun 2 '15 at 10:32
  • Not "unfit for academia", just "unfit for the independent work they will be expected to do, whatever their professional future might turn out to be". – vonbrand Jan 2 '16 at 1:32

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