“Nothing pisses me off more than a student who thinks (s)he has something better to do than to pay attention”

Every student has noticed that some lectures are better than others. That is, any student that once in a while attends lectures must have noticed this. To some extent, this is simply because some professors are better than others. Though anyone can improve their lectures by training and experience, that’s not what I want to talk about. The interesting thing is that one lecture by a specific professor can be much better or worse than a different lecture by the same professor.

Why is this? What inspires a professor to excel in some lectures? Is it the idea of providing knowledge to students yearning to learn? Is it that handsome young man or the pretty young women so eagerly anticipating what you will say next? Is it the sudden realization that good student evaluations may help get that promotion you so desperately desire?

The truth is, I don’t know. I myself am sometimes surprised at how well or how poorly a lecture is going. I do know that the key is in the interaction between professor and class. There has to be chemistry, even when the lecture is mostly a one-way transfer of information. Of course, this means that the professor has to adjust to the students. This is very important, but it’s not the whole story. I think that students can contribute a lot to this chemistry and can help improve any lecture. More importantly, I think there are things that students should try to avoid.
So, if you want a good lecture, try to avoid:

  1. Dozing off. To state the obvious: it is not very inspiring to see someone tuning out while you are doing your best to be inspirational. I realize that some topics are boring (and some professors even more so). You’ll just have to bite the bullet. If you notice that you’re having a hard time focusing, then do something to break the pattern. Ask a question (that will pimp up your adrenaline) or try to guess where the professor is heading. Do anything to regain focus.
  2. Playing with your phone. More generally: doing things you could just as well do elsewhere. Nothing pisses me off more than a student who thinks (s)he has something better to do than to pay attention. For most lectures, attendance is not mandatory. If you do not intend to pay attention, just don’t come. No hard feelings! If you’ve decided to attend, then pay attention. If you’ve lost track, ask a question. There are no stupid questions (only stupid people). In other words, if you are not getting out of the lecture what you had hoped to, then don’t give up, but do everything you can to repair this.
  3. Trying to appear smart by asking the obvious. Asking questions and making comments is good. These should be used to clarify and contribute, however, not to show how smart you are. Some students seem to think that if they appear smart, the professor will remember them and forgive mistakes in the exam. It doesn’t work that way. I don’t remember names and when correcting exams I typically have no idea who the student is. A smartass remark in the lecture is just annoying and makes me want to stop and go do something more useful.
  4. Asking whether material is important for the exam. We know you want to pass the exam. We also want you to pass, and so we will prepare you the best we can. Being asked whether you need to know something for the exam gives the impression that you do not want to know it otherwise. There goes my inspiration. I thought you were more genuinely interested in what I was saying…