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Is it unreasonable to expect students to read the lecture notes before attending the first class?

Course Queries Syllabus Queries

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( 3 months ago )

The new semester will be starting in a few weeks, and I will be teaching a course which starts on the first day of the semester.

The goal of the course is to teach students how to use the R programming language to clean and analyze data. I will teach the course using a flipped classroom format:

  • To save time (both my own time and students' time), I will record video lectures and write lecture notes, which I expect the students to watch or read before each class. It should take the students about 1–2 hours to watch/read before class.

  • The class meets 1 time per week, for 3 hours at a time. During the class time each week, students will be in the computer lab, where they will complete data analysis tasks on the computer. During the class time in the lab, students can ask me to clarify any questions they may have.

Question: From the second class onward, I will be expecting students to watch the lecture videos and read the lecture notes before coming to class. However, is it a good idea to have the same arrangement for the first class? In other words, is it unreasonable to ask and expect students to read the lecture notes for the first class before coming to the first class? My plan is to post the lecture notes online, and to notify students that they should read the lecture notes by making an announcement using the course LMS system. (In my university, students are automatically signed up to the course learning management system when they register for the course.)

Some clarifications:

  • What types of students will be taking the course?

    The course is a course for undergraduate students, with most of the students are in their 2nd or 3rd year of study.

  • Is the course listed as a lab or as a lecture course?

    The course is listed as a lecture course. I am teaching in the business school, where lab courses are extremely uncommon. I believe that courses which are taught as lab courses, say by teaching them in a computer lab, are still listed officially as lecture courses.

  • Will I be giving the students too much work?

    In my university, courses meet once a week, for 3 hours at a time. My plan is to give students either some notes to read and/or videos to watch, which they should do before class each week. This should take about 1-2 hours of time each week, which seems to me to be quite reasonable. Students in my university take 5 courses a semester on average, which is 15 hours of class time each week.



( 3 months ago )

Yes, it is unreasonable to ask and/or expect students to do 1-2 hours of reading work prior to coming to the first class of the semester. It’s not just that, as others point out, your expectations will surely not be met, but, equally importantly, that such a request is unfair to the students.

What’s reasonable is to expect the students to come to the first class knowing the officially advertised prerequisite material. Requiring more knowledge than that is effectively moving the goalposts, a kind of false advertising, and a (mild) abuse of your authority. In addition to most of the students ignoring your request, even the ones who do the reading may still resent you for this misrepresentation, and for trying to monopolize a part of their time that is not yours to monopolize - the time before the beginning of the class, when students may well be busy with other things they had planned to do.

At the end of the day, it’s worth remembering that it is your job to teach the material, and that the time between the start of the class and the end of the semester is precisely the time scheduled by the university for the students to learn that material. Assigning independent reading, while certainly acceptable, is something that should be done sparingly, and not before this official time period. Your intentions seem good and I sympathize with the general idea: I may also wish that if I’m teaching, say, a complex analysis class then students should read at home the basics of contour integration before the course starts so that I can cover more advanced material. But that’s my problem, not the students’.


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