Day: February 2, 2017

Xyk the Sub

Dear readers, I have a question for you. But first, a bit of information.

This week, I am substituting for a colleague who’s away at a conference and teaching his own large undergrad course. I teach this course often, so lecturing is no big deal. I subbed for the same colleague in the same course a few years ago, when he taught it last.

This colleague is… Not the department’s most coveted teacher. He means well and he prepares, he’s just… Not a very effective communicator. That’s a well-known fact in the department, and we don’t bend over backwards to have him teach undergraduate courses, but he still has to on occasion (and it really makes no sense to effectively reward poor classroom performance by having him teach only graduate courses or undergrad electives). Anyway, this is all to say that I wasn’t particularly surprised that a few students came to ask me, “Could you please keep teaching this course for the rest of the semester?” Flattering, yes, but I obviously cannot, and they know it. I did tell them they could come ask me questions about the course if they needed help.

I have developed an extensive set of lecture notes for that course, and I am pretty sure the colleague uses them to prepare for his lectures (he has all my materials). The last time I subbed for him, I offered the students my lecture notes, they jumped on the offer, so I posted the notes online and gave them a link. The colleague said thanks, but thereafter many students stopped coming to class for him, and I think he blamed it on them having my lecture notes.

From what the students communicated to me this week, they don’t actually have much material to study from. While I am pretty sure the colleague  uses a standard textbook, it seems many students are confused as to what the text should be or if there even is one. I mentioned my notes in class, but then I asked the colleague if he would be okay with me giving them the notes, and he said he’d rather I didn’t. So I didn’t.

But now a couple of students approached me about the notes, and one just asked about them in an email.

This is my question. What do I tell the student who explicitly asked for the notes in an email?

On the one hand, these students pay tuition and I think it’s everyone’s duty to help them succeed as best they can. The students happen to have been exposed to me and would benefit from something that’s easy for me to give away (the notes). However, the colleague said no, so I am not posting them for everyone to see. But I should answer something to the student asking for the notes explicitly.

The options are (not all of them are serious, obviously):
a) send the student a pdf; b) give him a hard copy of the notes; c) either a or b, along with swearing the student to secrecy with a blood oath; d) tell the student I can’t because his instructor said not to; e) tell him I am sorry but I can’t and that the instructor has the notes, and if he feels the class should have them, he’ll post them; f) ignore the question; g) ignore the colleague’s wishes and just give everyone the notes.

I cannot imagine that I would say, to someone offering students an additional resource, “No, please don’t,” unless I thought the source was scientifically misleading or incorrect (which my notes are not). The more resources, the better, especially if they are inexpensive (don’t get me started on predatory publishers, churning new editions of $200 textbooks every two years even though they contain nothing but 200-year-old physics, thereby preventing the students from getting used copies or reselling their own; I know it’s business, but the greed is just disgusting).

What say you, blogosphere?