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It’s time for finals again and, true to the vulgar acronym, some of us are saying, “Eff, I never actually learned stuff.” Despite the fact that we’ve done all the work and used all the resources that Penn offers for academic help, there are those who haven’t really understood anything all semester.

More often than not, I’ve noticed this phenomenon in introductory lectures, in which professors and teaching assistants are responsible for exposing material to the students for the very first time. Yet it is not uncommon for teachers to inadequately convey the basics, and students then have few ways to disclose their lack of understanding. For this reason, there needs to be more discussion between instructors and students about the quality of teaching in introductory lectures.

Professors of these courses often fail to properly lay the foundations of an entire field. Even though they may be among the smartest and most-qualified people in the world, some professors would not be able to teach a fish how to swim, much less an undergraduate how to think.

The Student Committee on Undergraduate Education focused in part on this problem in its 2010 White Paper. “Though we recognize the importance of research to the University, Penn must balance professors’ scholarly pursuits with a commitment to effectively teach undergraduates,” it stated. “SCUE thus calls for an enhanced emphasis on faculty and TA teaching quality.”

Of course, the teachers aren’t always the problem. There are always going to be students who don’t do well in some courses. The almighty curve demands it. And a student failing is not an automatic indicator of bad teaching. Sometimes the student is just lazy.

But shoddy instruction still exists and has severe consequences when it happens in introductory lectures.

In some instances, instructors just cannot communicate effectively. Their words and presentations are dull and convoluted. Sometimes students literally cannot comprehend their professors because of language differences. For example, in one of my introductory lectures, my professor used the word “jiggle” for an entire class when he meant “juggle,” much to our confusion.

“Intro courses are supposed to be a way for me to expand my horizons and depth of knowledge,” College sophomore Audrey Boles said. “Incomprehensible professors and TAs make them frustrating and stressful.”

There are some initiatives already in place to tackle this problem. SCUE has been working with the Center for Teaching and Learning — a resource for instructors to improve their teaching skills — to increase the efficacy of mid-semester evaluations. Students can complete the evaluations as a way to communicate their concerns to the professors, who can then adjust their teaching accordingly.

This initiative is a good start, but there is room for a more direct and constructive dialogue. There is a level of hostility to work around because professors may feel personally attacked by these calls for improvement. But in the right forum, there can be a healthy conversation.

That forum could come in the form of office hours designated specifically for students to raise concerns about teaching, a quick survey of the class by a raise of hands to see if a concept was understood or even something as simple as a suggestion box. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but there are many options that are not being explored.

Most students are not looking for a scapegoat for their bad grades. They are just looking for a way to understand the material better and to do well in their classes. They are just looking for a teacher who excites them rather than lulls them to sleep.

Introductory lectures will most likely always be part of college students’ suffering. But when instructors don’t teach the course well and there is no way for us students to communicate that message, we are being set up to fail.

Adrienne Edwards is a College sophomore from Queens, New York. Her e-mail address is Ad-Libs appears on Wednesdays.

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