How to not attend a lecture

May 28th, 2010, 12:06 am PDT by Greg

I teach at a university. That comes with certain parameters: most of my students are in their late teens or early twenties, the average student is reasonably bright but occasionally unmotivated, and I don’t really have any way to compel students to come to lectures.

I do my best to give interesting, informative, and entertaining lectures. I’m successful enough that most students come most of the time, and that’s awesome.

Sometimes students don’t come to lecture. They don’t need a good reason, and they don’t have to tell me about it. I’m okay with that too: part of being at university is being responsible about that kind of thing and I’m happy to assume that whatever reason they have is a good one.

But what really annoys me is when students feel the need to email me, tell me the stupid reason they didn’t come to lecture, and then ask me to tell them what I covered.

I already spent an hour (or three hours) of my time giving the lecture and they had an opportunity to attend. I put a great deal of time and effort into explaining the material in the best way I can and pointing out the things that I think are important. I did all of this because I think I can actually do a decent job of getting material across in the lecture format and I think the material I’m talking about is important.

These emails leave me with two choices: (1) reduce a carefully-prepared lecture to a pointless list of topics and thus implying that I might as well have read them the textbook, or (2) spending another hour repeating the lecture in email form. Neither one of those is very attractive, but there’s also the third option that I have started to avail myself of: telling the students to shove off.

I’ll say here what I said to my CMPT 165 class last semester: if you miss a lecture, you ask a friend in the class for their notes. If you don’t have a friend in the class, ask the person sitting beside you; if at all possible, try to do this when you are sitting beside someone who you find attractive and offer to buy them coffee in return.

Seriously… do I have to explain everything?

cf. entitlement generation.

3 Responses to “How to not attend a lecture”

  1. Vladimir Levin Says:

    My own university years are behind me, but I must say that I always found lectures to be a terrible way to convey information. It’s very hard to stay alert throughout the entire lecture, and if you happen to miss a step or two along the way, the entire lecture can become a waste of time. I can’t fathom why lecturers wouldn’t simply use a video camera to record their lectures and post to a relevant Web site (internal to the University or otherwise). That way students can jump around, review parts they didn’t understand and ignore parts they find straightforward. Lectures are a good way to convey some information informally to a group of people when there’s just the one lecture, but I remember how awful it was slogging from one lecture to the next, to the next. I say, if someone actually wants to show up to the live lecture fine, but for most students it would be better for them to have a video they can review at their discretion.

  2. Lew Payne Says:

    Consider handing out (or posting – whatever is the norm) a sheet explaining your expectations of the students[1]. This sheet should cover “what if I miss a lecture” and other common situations which you’ve now come to identify. Include your policy, which I assume is something akin to “it is not my responsibility to issue you a private briefing on what I covered in public.”

    [1] I’m amazed at how many professors don’t do this – leading me to assume they have no expectations other than to collect a paycheck. I wish all my college professors had done this for me back in ’78.

  3. Lew Payne Says:

    After reading Vladimir Levin’s comment, I wanted to add that my pet peeve (during my university years) was lectures in which the professor wrote down tons of material on the board (while working through – or illustrating – a problem), and then erased it, or parts of it, to correct mistakes made along the way.

    If I were doing it again, these days I would prefer a video lecture (with the problems worked out correctly – the first time) to a “live mistakes – I can’t seem to get it right despite teaching the subject for a decade” lecture that distracts us by having to take notes (and briefly absorb material) that are incorrect.

    I’m afraid I didn’t express myself too succinctly in the above, and I’m a bit too lazy right now to try and edit further.