When I set the prompt for this carnival, I thought I was picking something fairly straightforward. Now I’m struggling to home in on one particular teaching session that was memorable. There are plenty that I remember, but few I remember for ‘good reasons’. Do I select the Maths for Chemistry lecture on ‘dress like a pirate day’ and talk about the student who leapt to his feet (dressed like a pirate) yelling ‘aharrrrr me hearties’ everytime the number four came up? Do I talk about the reasons that I don’t give out postit notes in class (hint: they were kidnapped and later found on my door with various things written on them)? Do I talk about the class that for one reason or another became a discussion about the right of women to wear whatever the hell they want and do not ‘deserve’ to be heckled in any way? Or perhaps the class that ended in a conversation about consent, drunkenness and unconsciousness? Perhaps focussing on the actual content delivery I should focus on a class where I watched the students get it, or a class where what I did seemed especially effective. Then maybe I should think more about my time as a student and consider the lecturers with an enormous capacity for chalk’n’talk (14 sides of derivations), starting to use lecture notes that were shared on the web (and printed in 48 point font as they were the versions used to print the OHP slides), making us research and present content each week, or the coming plagues of powerpoints and torture thereby.
It seems that teaching sessions are much like holidays – many memories for many different reasons. My personal conviction is that any teaching session you walk away from thinking ‘that wasn’t actually too bad’ is a good one.
I teach a fair range of courses and mostly the teaching materials evolve to some degree each year. My current thing is mini-PBL: we start with a lecturey lecture (traditional style content delivery) then in the next session have a brief intro to a problem, a set of questions to structure solving the problem, and some resource slides/reading/bring your own device and do research. A period of class time is allocated to working the problem through, then a whole cohort discussion to get some answers recorded. Mini-PBL because I will not send the class away with homework at times of the semester when they are overloaded with coursework. My own research is pointing out very strongly that this is not an effective or sustainable (or reasonable) approach. It is our job as educators to wring the most out of contact time. Some of those courses are memorable by virtue of being very dry and tedious, some are a lot of fun. Generally it is the subject matter that governs this rather than the teaching method. I’ve yet to find a teaching method that works for the driest content other than ‘suck it up folks’.
I do have a favourite course, and it’s one that I’ve taught the longest and I think it’s probably my best teaching. It’s memorable because I can predict where the students will go wrong and when, how they will go wrong and the fewest steps to getting things back on track. Sometimes I see a new error or misconception but I’ve got a list of the major ones these days. The course also overlaps with a research project into diagnostic tests so there’s a nice synergy there. Perhaps that’s why I picked that topic for the diagnostic test rather than the dry and tedious course.