My Professors' Impossible Lists

13 Mar 2006

This semester all my classes are in classrooms with facilities that could be aptly described as “lacking.” Although there is no dearth of multimedia classrooms and many teachers regularly conduct class through PowerPoint presentations, some of my professors’ classrooms don’t even have blackboards. To make matters worse, the two most poorly equipped classrooms are the two with the professors that like to ramble.

Now, I don’t mean to say that these professors don’t come to class prepared. They both come well prepared with pages of material beautifully organized in outline form. I’ve even caught glimpses of those sheets, so I can confirm that the profs do really teach from their notes. The problem is that in the transition from the well-structured written outline to the teacher’s mouth, that precious order goes out the window.

My professors are forever making lists, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to gather that information and properly organize it in my notes. I know for a fact that my classmates, while definitely faring better than I, struggle with this somewhat as well.

If I took my organizational cues solely from what my professors say (and especially what they don’t say), I would frequently end up with notes looking something like this:

  1. blah blah
    1. stuff
    2. stuff
      1. blah blah
    3. info
      1. stuff
      2. stuff
        1. blah blah
          1. info
          2. more info
            1. blah blah
          3. stuff
            1. stuff
            2. stuff
              1. stuff
                1. info
                  1. blah blah
                    1. stuff
                      1. more stuff

It’s pretty maddening. It makes me wonder if I need to get a wider notebook. My classmates seem to be used to this. They frequently compare notes in the course of a lecture, and their combined brainpower is usually sufficient to reorganize the flow-of-consciousness delivery into something a little more disciplined.

I know for a fact that it’s not totally a listening comprehension issue on my part; in one lecture my classmates and I actually counted, and at various points throughout the lecture the professor said “第三个大问题” (“the third major issue”)–which should have corresponded to big Roman numeral three on the overall outline–three times!

The lesson here is that there are ways in which the Chinese educational system encourages critical thinking and independent analysis. I have seen it, and it’s not pretty.

Share

John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Good stuff, amazing profs. What courses are you taking?

  2. I think the lesson here is that one advantage of the Chinese educational system is that Chinese students are able to put their collaborative learning style to work organizing a disorganized lecture.

  3. Kevin S., that is an unbelievably brilliant comment!!!

  4. I am confused. Kevin, aren’t you just restating what I already wrote? Is Chris being serious or sarcastic?

  5. Eh. Books manage to subcategorize down many levels while staying flush with the margin, and so should you…

    I do concur on the “now for part III” part. But most of my profs would (1) as the class what big number we were on next, and (2) check the notes of the people sitting in the front row at the beginning of class to see where to pick up the lecture. I rather like the digressive style of lectures, myself, as long as the prof stays generally within the bounds of the topic. I’ve had several profs who would tangent off about their trips to Japan at the drop of a hat. There’s a point where knowing when to stop taking notes is as important as what you’ve written down in the first place (“Now, that last bit was just chatting. No need to take it down.”).

  6. zhwj,

    The worst part is that these profs of mine aren’t going off topic. They’re just delivering the information in such a way that it’s not clear when we’ve gone on to the next number in a list, or when we have concluded Roman numeral I and gone on to Roman numeral II, or whatever. If we could just see an outline, it would be so much easier! (I am a visual learner!)

  7. Maybe you should bring up this problem with the professor (in a nice non-critical way, of course). Ask the professor either to make an effort to make the transitions between topics more clear, or ask the professor to make available copies of his notes. Better yet, you can volunteer to type up the professor’s notes and put it online for all the students in the class to share. This has happened in a class that I took, where a student in the class volunteered to type up the professor’s notes after each lecture. It really improved the learning experience for all the students because we no longer need to concentrate on furiously taking down notes and can focus our attention on absorbing what the professor said. The professor loved it as well since it led to a more interactive class, the students got a lot more of what he was teaching, and he now has a online artifact of his work that people all over the world can look at and reference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *