Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An actual work post?!

No, really :).

I have been pondering teaching. Class this semester is (as least to me!) going really well: I have a critical mass of students who are unafraid to speak up and who are willing to suggest tangents to which material may be related. The material is largely prepared and those parts which are not, I have the pile of sources assembled (read: have not been up until a.m. the night before class!) And I have not (yet?) lost the high from being 'on stage' in front of the class. On the flip side, the class is not so big as to be unmanageable; I know the names of most of the regular contributors. I'm really enjoying teaching, and the vibes coming back are positive.

Possible negatives:
* class participation is a part of the grade; but there are still a significant number of folks sitting at the back, not taking part. I plan to note the consequences of that quite explicitly next class
* too much diversion. I hope that being able to tie the class content to concrete examples helps it to stick and make sense, but I have to be careful not to get too far off-track. For instance, we've been discussing feeding control pathways; I think it's appropriate for the class to spend a moment thinking about the concept of actual hunger - foreign to them - but not for the whole class to be devoted to global food politics :-). [Which is a danger in part because I would enjoy such a class-long digression!]
* speed. I know from some of the post-class questions that some folks in class are having a hard time keeping up. That's another reason for the frequent question pauses and parenthetical material: allows folks to catch up and consolidate. But teaching to such a large ability curve is always going to be tough here. I'll keep working on the right balance. But I'm still unwilling to give handouts that even come close to substituting for class presence. Any advice?


Andy said...

A couple of things from when I had the dubious priviledge of teaching HNDs and Years 1 and 3 UG:

- might not be appropriate for large lecture setting, but class participation can be improved if you can do small group activities. If individual class participation is key, consider telling the groups the rapporteur is rotated each time?

- DEFINITELY make sure any parenthetical stuff is made explicit. Say so - both when you're going off-piste, and then when you're back on the important stuff. This is particularly important for those who are struggling to keep up as it is.

- something I found worked with year 1 UG/HND students: handouts with missing words... I nicked the idea from one of my MSc lecturers! He was teaching us networks (tedious at the best of times) but was engaging and honest enough to keep us motivated when we needed to be. He made light of the missing words stuff, but swore blind that it worked. Something did - everyone I knew on that course did well, and I remember weird arcana from those days even now!

- also, handouts as above can be designed so they work as great reminders/counterpoints to what you're actually delivering: so someone with a copy who wasn't there won't get anything like the same value from them. The riches come from the meaning stored in the annotation at the tmie. Or something.

Sorry if the above seems a bit off-kilter. It's been a while since I've had to put any of this in to practice!

Ewan said...

I like the missing words idea. Thanks! And yes, I do try to be very expicit about when I'm wandering off the stuff that's 'on the test.'

Amanda said...

Stressing that class participation is important, but might not be enough to really engage students who are shy or feel that they don't grasp the material well enough to make valuble contributions. if your pace is quick, they might also be struggling with you moving on before they've fully formulated their question.

Do you count student visits to your officehours into class participation? That could be a way for the shy students to discuss material with you, without worrying about their classmates.

Ewan said...

Office hours count; I also suggest that folks may wish to come to class with a question based o the previous class, if they have trouble formulating in real-time. I also count requests for clarification and so on, so even willingness to admit that they'd like additional info/repetition is a plus.