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I'm in a graduate specialization program. It's expedited and it's a year long. There is an equivalent two-year Master's program for which I didn't apply. The classes are held twice a week in the evening. They are four to five hours long. There are Powerpoint presentations which the lecturers email the students a few days after the lectures.

(I was surprised the lecturers didn't provide us with their contact information (email) and so I had to contact the secretary of the program and ask her to email me their info).

Situation:

You'd think that some students would save some of their questions either for after the lecture or for a private communication via email. There are a few students - usually the same ones - who constantly interrupt the lecturers to ask a question or to share an experience from their workplace. Most of the students work or have some sort of experience in the field of study.

I understand this is normal and expected to some extent. However, these questions lead to more questions, comments, chatting, arguing, even talking about politics with the lecturers, to the point that the lecturers can't finish on time. So far, none of the lecturers have complained about this. It seems that they want to accommodate us by finishing earlier and taking shorter breaks.

One of the lecturers had this to say:

if you guys had not been working in [field of study] and were just undergrads, you wouldn't have all these questions...blah blah....I'm just going to answer this last question and no more for tonight though, so we can move on with the lecture...blah blah...

Yeah, right. It turns out that the guy who asked that last question happened to ask another question later on, and the lecturer kept answering questions the entire time.

Long story short, the classroom feels more like a chat room, or a cafe and the lectures feel like listening to a bunch of people talking about their negative experiences, bitterness and problems they are facing in the field, even politics (unfortunately it's relevant).

(I'm not saying this has not been valuable to a degree. I have found out interesting things.)

However, my goal is to either email the director of the program or meet with him and talk to him about my concerns without telling him or the lecturers how to do their job even though it may seem that way.

I'd like to be able to suggest (if it's a good idea) that the lecturers:

  • either accepted questions towards the end,
  • or ask those same students, who ask multiple questions to save the rest of their questions for either after the lecture or for an email.

Perhaps it's me and perhaps this is how graduate level classes are but most of the time I leave the classroom having a headache because of the constant asking-answering (I also find it hard to concentrate).

Question:

How can I convey my concerns to the director of the program, without sounding like a know-it-all? Is it even my place to make suggestions? I also want to be polite.

Clarification:

  1. I don't want to approach the students or openly complain about it during the lecture.
  2. The director of the program, who has given one of the lectures, had a very casual style himself and spent most of the time answering questions and/or giving us professional insight about really controversial topics which may or may not have been relevant to the specific field of study. (He's supposed to give more scientifically relevant lectures later on).
  • 2
    I'm wondering, why did you propose to go to the director before talking first to the lecturers themselves? Have you already spoken to them? – Mark Beadles Nov 14 '17 at 15:46
  • @MarkBeadles I thought about it but since this happens on every single lecture, I thought I save myself time and go straight to the director of the program. – Tycho's Nose Nov 14 '17 at 15:47
  • I think you should communicate the problem directly to the lecturer. That's a single conversation and it should lead to a prompt resolution. Communicating with the director wastes time, since the director has to relay the message to the lecturer. Any resolution via the director is likely to be slow, moreover, the lecturer might well be annoyed that they weren't consulted directly. – user2768 Nov 17 '17 at 9:46
  • @user2768 So basically approach each lecturer separately is what you're saying. – Tycho's Nose Nov 17 '17 at 18:38
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    @Tycho'sNose I hadn't noticed you were referring to lecturers. That said, no two lecturers are the same. So, presumably the issues exists in a lesser extent in some classes and is more problematic in other classes. I'd still recommend speaking to the lecturers directly. (Unless there are too many to make this feasible, then I'd suggest talking directly to the director.) – user2768 Nov 20 '17 at 8:35
3

Kudos to you for trying to improve the lecture! I was in comparable situations myself, but I'm a coward and didn't take steps. So this answer deals with how I would go about it, if I had to - I didn't test it in practice.

However, these questions lead to more questions, comments, chatting, arguing, even talking about politics with the lecturers, to the point that the lecturers can't finish on time.

This is the important point and what you should focus on - the clearly detrimental effects (discussions/arguing, not being able to finish on time).

For sure, the usual etiquette applies

  • Be polite and friendly
  • Be to the point
  • Be concise
  • Keep it well-arranged

This applies to both, talking and email, e. g. in the latter case I try to write them in such a way, that what I want becomes clear already by glancing at the email. No unnecessary fluff.

I guess I would take the following steps

  1. Praise the lecture (if you mean it, but you'll surely find something positive to point out) and especially the possibility to ask questions.
  2. Describe how the way questions are handled interrupts the lecture, but not in an accusatory way. Say that it negatively effects you also.
  3. Add suggestions on how to improve the lecture, e. g. by answering the questions directly only (and to cut discussions short) and your suggestions.

Explanation:

  1. Gives them a good start and also makes clear, that you are neither just whining/complaining nor question the usefulness of asking/answering questions itself. After all, this is one of the advantages of attending lectures.
  2. Explaining the problem situation and the effects it has on you, without blaming them directly, gives them valuable feedback. It's possible that they are already on your side, but if no one complains... Also, it is hard to not agree with you and the effects it has on you cannot be denied. How and that the learning experience suffers should be of great importance to them.
  3. Suggestions are always helpful, and in this case you further emphasize, that you have no problem with questions themselves and are therefore not advocating something bad or having unrealistic expectations.

For sure, it strongly depends on them, how they react to your suggestions. It's possible that they don't do anything at all, or they may welcome them as an incentive to act. In the end, you are there to learn, and interrupting the lectures is detrimental to the whole purpose of such lectures, so it's good that you voice your opinion on that matter. Just avoid making it sound as if you were accusing them personally, rather that there is a problem and you needed their help to solve it.

I have good experience with constructive and polite feedback and my lecturers always seemed willing to listen to suggestions (usually by others, not by me) and actively encouraged feedback. The feedback was not always helpful (e. g. I noticed that, when the (anonymous) comments were discussed), but whenever it was, the lecturers were open to it, or at least explained why it wouldn't work.

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  • Thanks for taking the time to answer and for encouraging me to pursue this. I knew I wanted to do this but I wasn't sure how to approach the director about it. – Tycho's Nose Nov 14 '17 at 13:00
  • I'm thinking of waiting a little in case someone addresses the interpersonal side of it, and if I see I'm not getting any more answers, I'll migrate it. Thank you for helping :) – Tycho's Nose Nov 14 '17 at 16:29
  • When I was in a similar situation we talked to the head of department with a group (we signed a paper to support the two persons who actually went to the department head). It will greatly help your case if you can find other students who support you. – Louic Nov 18 '17 at 13:29

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