Teaching without a Net
October 22, 2009, 5:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

When I first started as a professor, I felt that what students needed to do well in a class, above all else, was precise, error-free lectures, and lot’s of practice doing problems.  Based on this ideas, I did most of my lectures from slides that I had very carefully prepared before hand, and gave the class lots and lots of problems to solve.  This actually worked pretty well for a while – I got great feedback from students, was nominated for some teaching awards, and enjoyed the experience.

However, eventually I realized that my lectures were not as exciting as they could be.  I read some articles on Tomorrows Professor listserv, that bemoaned the use of pre-prepared slides.  They claimed that extensive use of slides makes lectures completely predictable and unresponsive.  This semester, as an experiment, I stopped using slides, or even lecture notes of any kind.  I memorize enough of the lecture so that I can be sure to use terminology that is reasonably close to the textbook and to the notes I’ve posted from previous years of the class.

How have things changed?  I find teaching a more exciting and sometimes scary activity.  Also, it’s easier for me to respond to feedback from the class as a whole about e.g. whether it’s worthwhile to go over an example of a particular concept.  When a student asks an interesting question, I definitely spend more time than I used to on exploring the answer in depth.   For me, at least,  the lectures are a lot more fun and challenging.  From the feedback I’m getting from students so far, they also seem to be more engaged.  Do I make more mistakes in lecture?  Definitely.  However, I feel that I’m slowly getting better at checking things on the fly and am making fewer mistakes now than when I started this.

How has this changed my teaching philosophy?  I realize now that a big part of education is inspiration, motivation, and a kind of educational “entertainment”.  I also realize that it’s just much more engrossing and memorable to watch someone walk carefully across a rope in the air, than to trudge across a line on the floor that was drawn before the performance even began!


2 Comments so far
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I fully agree with your new approach. Besides, often at least for me I find it easier to understand when the lecturer is actually writing down the steps on the board, as it gives me enough time to do it myself, which is a problem for most courses in which slides are used. It looks more of an instruction than a discussion when slides are used.

Comment by Navin

I appreciate this new approach, as I felt over the last years lecturers tend to go faster while using slides. Instead when they are writing down the derivations, it gives students enough time to think and follow the lectures clearly. And rather than skimming over several topics, I felt it is better to understand some of them thoroughly.

Comment by M S Karim

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