9

I'm taking a distributed systems course at a well known university in the U.S.

I've noticed my professor has three primary forms of responding to student questions during his lecture:

  • Immediately answers with, just a minute, we're going to cover that
  • Immediately answers with, that's what we just covered
  • Spends a couple sentences briefly explaining why the student's question doesn't apply / doesn't work

Almost no dialog is ever spent on further explanation, but rather on disproving. So, instead of recognizing student questions as a lack of understanding, it seems to come off as defending what he already covered and moving on.

As a student in this course, how best do I approach this?
I fear this may be just a personality trait / teaching style that he's acquired, and I wouldn't want to offend him with "Your responses to questions are unhelpful." — But maybe this is the best option?

  • 1
    Are you asking how to give him feedback to improve his teaching in the future? Or how to get him to answer your questions this semester, while you're in the class, because you think it would help you do better in the course? Or something else? – ff524 Nov 19 '15 at 6:38
  • Is both an option? :) -- Really, how to give him feedback, and in the meantime, how to get him to answer questions now until that feedback is heeded. – MrDuk Nov 19 '15 at 6:40
  • I think this may be a duplicate of How do you respectfully give a teacher feedback about their teaching? (unless your question is "How do I get answers to my questions if the situation doesn't change," in which case you should edit the post to clarify.) – ff524 Nov 19 '15 at 6:42
  • 2
    The opposite is also a problem, where a question that is about to be covered is instead answered poorly because the prep in the next section isn't used, or lots of time is spent explaining to just one person who missed the point (rare), or the lecture twists a question that does not apply around til it kinda does and then spends ages going into detail on that (I've seen a whole lecture wasted because 1 student asked a question about transmission frequency range in a class about modulation.) you want a goldilocks point in the middle. – Lyndon White Nov 19 '15 at 10:01
  • 2
    Sometimes the best takeaway from situations like this is as a case study to prompt you into thinking about how you can improve on it, or avoid similar mistakes, when you become a teacher. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 21 '15 at 5:26
5

It may be time to become more assertive in this person's class.

  • If he immediately answers with, just a minute, we're going to cover that, then you can speak up 5 minutes before class ends, or at the beginning of the following class, for example: "Excuse me, Prof. So-and-So, you mentioned you were going to be covering Topic B. Since we didn't get to that today/last time, could you please start with that leftover question from last time?

  • If he immediately answers with, that's what we just covered, follow up immediately, for example, "Could you please clarify how the material you just covered answers my specific question? ... I'm sorry, sir, I don't see how that was relevant to my question."

  • If he spends a couple sentences briefly explaining why your question doesn't apply / doesn't work, then you can try something like this: "You feel I asked a stupid question. Nevertheless, I asked because I would honestly like an answer. Can you help me formulate the question in an acceptable format?"

Meeting one on one with certain professors sometimes gets one nowhere, unfortunately. Still, you could try visiting office hours to find out more about what he's like.

2

Yes, this happens many times. I have observed this generally happens if teacher is either young or new (might not be true but it is my observation, other experienced teacher here can shed light on this observation). Also this can be characteristic of that person as you mentioned. I would suggest first check if questions you (or others) asking are valid. I mean are they really not following in second category you mentioned.

Immediately answers with, that's what we just covered

Or wait for some time and see if it is not following in first category,

Immediately answers with, just a minute, we're going to cover that

If these doesn't satisfy and he/she is falling into third category,

Spends a couple sentences briefly explaining why the student's question doesn't apply / doesn't work

Then meet his/her personally after class and clarify your doubt. May be that person didn't understand your question correctly. It is also possible that sometimes some teachers become offensive if they can't answer your question and they might take this approach. In this case he/she might search for answer and get back to you later on. I had professor who has done similar thing where he answered abruptly and tell that student's question is not valid. However after 2-3 days, he mentioned this question again in class and said he was confused. He gave correct answer that time. I liked his attitude. He actually apologized that he misunderstood and then he researched on this for 2 days and finally answered !!

Even after that you think that person is doing this again and again then you can first talk to his/her fellow professors who do you think can understand students better. I guess there is always some professor with whom students talks freely. We had one such professor who actually was aware of all student matters better than us (He even knew who is dating whom :P). Your last resort will be head of your academics. You can talk to him/her and explain situation. You can take few representative students with you also. Then head of academics can handle things further and will take appropriate decisions.

2

When a professor avoids questions (doubts) in class, it could generally depend on one or more among the probable reasons.

  • The answer to the question would eventually be covered later in the session
  • The question is irrelevant to the current topic under discussion
  • Lack of time to explain in detail and cope with the syllabus
  • The answer to the question is not known to the professor at that time

Most may interpret the first three points as excuses to gloss over the fourth point. If any of the first three reasons are true, then the professor would be able to clarify your question after the session in her/his spare time. If the professor continues to avoid the question, then it may lead to infer the last cause.

IMHO, you should feel more comfortable having the question avoided rather than obtaining a random answer. Now, you have the option to search for the answer rather than be contented with the wrong one. You may force out truth, but not knowledge per se.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.