Monday, February 20, 2012

Do you rely on yourself or your professor for your education? (by anon)

A professor of mine recently griped about a fellow colleague who proposed a radical form of lecturing in which he would enter the class and ask his students, “what do you want to know?”  The professor who relayed this to the class found the idea completely absurd and thought it to be a terrible way of teaching, saying something to the effect of “we professors are not banks of information to be tapped into for the benefit of our students!”   Weighing the implications of both propositions, I must disagree with the professor who has a problem with this form of teaching.
While instructors should have a well-organized lesson plan to instruct and elicit discussion from their classes, their students should come to class eager to learn and full of questions on the subject they chose to sign up for.  I will grant that (as many, MANY posts on this blog have shown) a great deal of students take classes simply because they are required and they have absolutely no ambition in these courses other than to pass.  Yet for those of us who are genuinely interested in the course (if this rare cohort still exists), we should come to classes full of questions that will either elucidate our understanding of material we find confusing or argue against points made by the prolific authors’ works we have read.

The problem with instituting either method is, however, full of problems that no simple solution can alleviate.  Let’s take the situations one at a time then, first dealing with the inquisitive professor.  If any student signed up for a class because they were truly interested in it, should they not come to class fully prepared to ask and answer questions to either gain a better understanding of material or to challenge an author’s propositions?  If so, a professor opening a lecture or discussion in this manner should be totally acceptable, but the more realistic case is subsequently discussed.

You may, at this point, be wondering what the problem is with not reading material since a professor will lecture and give you all the information you need to know without reading, right? A valid proposition since this allows nearly any attentive student to “skate by” in most of their classes.  The problems arise in several areas.  Is your professor engaging? If not, do you even pay attention in class, or spend most of it texting, facebooking, angrybirding, or anything else NOT academically related?   
At this point, I believe we are at an impasse.  The real question boils down to this: who do you rely on for your education? You, or your professor?  In addition, who is responsible for your education?  Consider your answers and your use of “should” when you evaluate these questions.  I look forward to the responses.  

In any feedback that follows this post, I implore the readers to candidly confess how much reading they truly complete for their classes, keeping in mind that these posts are anonymous.  I’m not interested in explanations for not completing assignments because explanations are not excuses.  I simply want to know how many people truly do the work they are assigned.  This will give an insight into why it is that the “ask me questions” method of any professor does not work.  I’ll leave my own level of preparedness out of this so as to not prime any answers, and I hope all are answered truthfully (there’s no stigma here, people!).  The point of this is to show that if you are not prepared, you cannot participate, either with intelligent questions or insightful comments, and whether the responsibility lies with the professor or the student.


  1. I will bite. In my own experience it depends on the class and subject matter. In some of those required classes I am the guy in the back of the room doing everything but what I am supposed to. In my mind I am there because the attendance policy forces me to be so I might as well be doing something. To be fair though most of the time it's homework for another class.

    On the other hand, if it's a class or unit I enjoy or have an active interest in I will do all the readings and become involved.

    So, it's subjective to me. I will always turn papers in on time and study for exams regardless of interest but I will skip readings and "tune out" classes I don't care for. I know some people may get on me for not caring as much for my education but I still get A's and B's in all of my courses and I did pay for the class so it's on me what I get out of it.

    Prof. Chaos

  2. To your paraphrased attributed quote, “we professors are not banks of information to be tapped into for the benefit of our students!” I would add, "rather, learning is a communal process that operates through dialogue between the professor and students." I want to avoid the professor as "gatekeeper of knowledge" view, though I wholeheartedly agree that students need to take more responsibility for their education.

  3. “Their students should come to class eager to learn and full of questions on the subject they chose to sign up for”

    “consider your answers and your use of “should” when you evaluate these questions.”


    Moving on..

    To accurately judge one way or the other whether or not it would be a good thing to have the "inquisitive professor", as you put it, or the alternative, it would help to ask not only what kind of material is being taught, but also what kind of objectives are to be met in the course, as in, what kind of skills/knowledge the students are supposed to gain from the course.

    However, you ask, “who do you rely on for your education? You, or your professor? In addition, who is responsible for your education?”. I'm disappointed that it doesn't just go without saying that students and professors both must be relied on, as well as be held responsible for students’ education. But that is besides the point, because these questions are not only irrelevant, but they also come loaded with the assumption that an "inquisitive professor" makes the students rely on themselves and be responsible for their own education (which is your ideal), while the alternative professor is relied upon and held responsible for the students' education (which you disapprove of), when in reality, no one party can ever be expected to take sole responsibility in the matter regardless (and there are better questions to be addressed).

    For a class that involves a lot of dense reading material and abstract concepts, it is imperative that the professor does a thorough job of explaining the content and making it palatable so that students can readily digest/evaluate it and then articulate their thoughts on it, using their own reasoning and critical thinking. Furthermore, explicit explanation allows students to respond to the text better with more specific questions/comments about it overall.

    If the professor wishes to cultivate students’ skills identifying and interpreting of arguments, themes, or what have you, within a text, then the students must be pushed to read course materials and demonstrate an ability to grasp the text on their own (through the use of pop quizzes, for example). Unfortunately, sometimes material needs to be spoon fed in order for students to effectively question, critique, analyze or form any kind of opinion on it at all in the first place. So if Joe Shmo didn't do the reading, well maybe it wouldn't have gotten him very far anyway.

    All in all, we obviously have required texts for a reason, and reading is beneficial in most cases, in some way, but that doesn’t mean students/professors should or shouldn't do this or that, as you declare. And the issue here certainly doesn't boil down to the few questions you pose.

  4. 10:28's comment is awesome.