How to effectively hinder learning

Jump to navigation Jump to search
How to Effectively Hinder Learning: A Guide for Lecturers and their Minions

Compiled by Ed Egan, from contributions from his peers

UC Berkeley, 2009

The Guide


  • Have an unacceptably high "er"/"um" rate (10+/min)
  • Use repeated redundant (and preferably untrue) phrases ("OK?", "You see?", "Right?" <all no pause>, "Sooooo…", etc)
  • Have intonation that consistently goes up or down at the end of a sentence or flat intonation
  • Experiment with poor volume control (too loud, mumbling, or random variation)
  • Develop (or capitalize on) an un-interpretable accent
  • Try speaking only to the floor, ceiling, back wall, or black/whiteboard
  • Breathing should not come naturally - erratic and heavy breathing is ideal (but stop short of giving your students the hope that you may have a heart attack and so that class will end early)

Physical Appearance

  • Cultivate your underarm sweat (and/or under-boob sweat, particularly for large men)
  • Dress inappropriately (or have excessively bushy eyebrows, bad hair, etc)
  • Appear angry or confused or both, at all times
  • If you use a projector, consider a nose extension and use it to create a distracting shadow
  • A pungent choking body odor is very distracting; if you can’t achieve this, commission an unwashed student to sit in the middle of the room


  • Pace back and forth (so your students appear to be watching a tennis match)
  • Have poor control over some part of your body (your hand taps the board, your head rolls around, etc. If you are a large person, let your outlying regions resonate)


  • Write too small
  • Erase material too quickly (preferably erase as you write), or don’t erase at all
  • Write over material left on the board from the last class, or your own material (target the more relevant material first)
  • Attack the blackboard (or whiteboard) - It is your enemy
  • Randomly "structure" material across one or more boards
  • Write on boards that are not in front of the class
  • Write at the bottom of the board, or out to the edges, where one or more students can not see
  • Use symbols or notation students haven’t seen before without introducing them
  • Change notation randomly and criticize the choice of notation in the book (or better still in your own lecture notes)
  • Write symbols that are confusing (is it an s, S, ?, s or even a bad r? Is it a ?, F, T, Ø, O, o or O? Don’t make any reference to what the symbol might be)
  • Draw bad graphs (not labeling the axes, too few or too many colors, lines on top of lines, etc)
  • Always draw any second graph on top of the first
  • Overtly screen your writing with your body (allow occasional glimpses <500ms)

Interaction with the class

  • Treat questions with disrespect ("No, that is a stupid question")
  • Treat students with disrespect ("...and you are stupid for asking it")
  • Inappropriately discuss personal details (" my wife/husband/masseuse told me last night")
  • Sexually harass one or more students of either or both genders
  • Ask rhetorical questions
  • Ask questions to which there is no right answer (for bonus points single out a student at random)
  • Ask questions and don’t wait for an answer (or always let the annoying visiting scholar answer)
  • Never ask any questions (other than the above)
  • Be completely wrong and do not admit it
  • Overstate your own importance and accomplishments in the field (or just outright lie about them)
  • Start the class early and end it late, or randomize the start and end times
  • Answer unimportant questions tangentially and at length
  • Just go ahead and ignore any important questions
  • Pepper the lecture with your own personal "war stories" that involve meeting the rich and famous, but only if they are not related to the subject at hand.
  • Let your students know that you’re a Very Important Person (fear is better than love, but both are preferable to learning)

Covering Material

  • Cover material that is way too advanced (or easy) for the median student in the class
  • Don’t cover important material (particularly say things like "this is left as a proof for you to do")
  • Proceed through material too quickly; especially consider accelerating towards the end of the class
  • Never pause, or pause for too little time for anyone to catch up with you
  • Provide no examples or intuition for any concept
  • Repeat only exactly what is in the textbook and/or lecture notes
  • Or cover only material that is in neither
  • Never explain either what you are about to do, are doing, or have just done
  • If you use notes, skip a large number of steps and state the answer (say e.g. "you can do the algebra")
  • Try to staple any notes you do bring in the wrong order
  • If you don’t use notes, skip just enough steps to ensure that you have irrecoverably lost either the class or yourself
  • If you want to provide a list of topics for each class, make sure that the list is encoded in unintelligible abbreviations and that it contains twice as many items as you could feasibly cover (demoralization is the key here)
  • Cover advanced material which is part of your bizarre interests and for which the chances of a student-problem encounter is negative

Class notes


-Provide class notes electronically less than 1 minute before the class starts
-Provide notes after each class that are riddled with both typos and mistakes
-Refuse to provide class notes (argue that it saves paper)
-Randomize from the above

Assignments and Exams

  • Demand way too much homework
  • Set homework that is at best tangentially related to the material
  • Every problem on a problem set should contain errors (ideal errors would make the questions unanswerable)
  • Later on publish solutions to problem sets with (different) errors
  • Grade using a random number generator (and deduct points from students who complain)
  • Return graded papers as late as possible, if at all
  • Don’t submit the grades to the registrar until your students have been given an "incomplete"
  • Never provide helpful information about the contents of your exam (disinformation is preferable to no information)
  • Write the exam to maximize a convex combination of your own free time and the morale-damage to your students (an ideal exam would be unanswerable unreadable and take no time to write)
  • Make sure no one finishes writing the exam on time; better yet, make sure no one even finishes reading the exam on time
  • Remember, students may accidentally learn something from your exam - write your exam accordingly

Research Courses

  • Teach your own interests, but only if they don’t coincide with the contents of the course
  • Assign your own research as term papers (for maximum effectiveness don’t tell your students that their work will be stolen)
  • On important subject matters cite only your own personal work, regardless of how marginal its contribution actually is
  • Ignore your colleagues’ findings and the shoulders of giants upon which your own work stands. All the credit is yours.
  • Set extremely large reading lists (a million pages is not unreasonable)
  • Do not provide pdfs or print outs of papers; make the students find them from your obscure references
  • Discourage any sharing of papers amongst students
  • At least 30% of your reading list should be papers that are not available through the library system
  • At least 30% of your reading list should be papers that are completely unavailable from any source
  • At least 40% of your reading list should be useless except as a kindling
  • Regardless of the reading list, set at least two new papers the night before class (preferably midnight) and then spend the entire class exclusively on these papers
  • Criticize students who have not read the papers
  • Ask students for definitions of constructs that were not in the papers, and then tell them that they are wrong
  • Ask students for definitions of constructs that were in the papers, and still tell them that they are wrong
  • Do not provide any correct definitions for constructs
  • Take attendance - graduate students should be treated like infants
  • Make it unclear what should be in the term paper
  • Hint that only a term paper capable of winning a Noble prize (or equivalent) will receive a passing grade
  • Graduate students claim that they don’t care about their GPAs - make them realize they were wrong

About this document


  • The peers who made contributions mentioned above shall remain nameless
  • All characters implicitly or explicitly appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. It should particularly be understood that whilst this work was compiled at the University of California at Berkeley, it does not allude to or satirize any member or members of the faculty at that institution. Even the large ones.