a fourth meditation on being a teacher, part 2

And so, we come back to spend a bit of quality time with my grand plan of fundamentally redesigning my teaching.  I think that the place to start is by looking deeply at the things I’m currently doing.  From time to time, it behooves us all to lean back, close our eyes, and examine our fundamental assumptions, those bits of bedrock on which we base everything we do.

As mathematicians have done for centuries, I lecture.  But what does this mean in practice?  It starts with all of the things that go into preparing for the act of lecturing.  I spend time in my office, or on the train, or wherever I happen to be, structuring the material.  I work through examples, some standard, some non-standard, some weird and strange to illustrate a particular point I wish to make, so that I can present them smoothly during the lecture itself.   I construct exercises to allow the students to engage with the material.

But what of the act of lecturing itself?  I am beginning to think that in some ways and at some times, lecturing is the wrong description, and that transcriber might be more appropriate.

Reading and writing are very recent acquired talents in human history, both only a few thousand years old, and both only much more recently expected of members of the general populace.  Speaking and listening, though, are much older, and so a question worth asking is, do we learn better when listening or when reading?  I don’t know the answer, but if you do or can point me in a direction, I’d be interested in getting a reference for who’s explored this.

And this is relevant for the discussion we’re having.  If it turns out that the answer to my question above is no, there is no difference in learning between listening and reading, then this begins to undercut the reason for having a standard lecture, where the lecturer talks and the students listen.  Until I learn otherwise, though, I choose to believe the answer is yes.

This is not to say that there is no place for a lecturer and students being in the same room at the same time.  Only that in order for the lecture to add some value to the student experience, there would need to be something else.  There would need to be interaction between lecturer and student.

And so there is where I am at the moment.  What are the things that I can do to add value to that time when I’m in the room with my students.  And I’ll go back to the beginning, to the choice of the material I talk through versus the material I make available; to how I present this material; to how I encourage my students to be active participants versus passive recipients.

Looking back, I’ve been experimenting with things for years now, but not in a particularly coordinated way.  And so, before I next teach, I think that quest will be to impose some coordination on my activities in and outside of the class room.


~ by Jim Anderson on 21 February 2016.

3 Responses to “a fourth meditation on being a teacher, part 2”

  1. […] In a fourth meditation on being a teacher, part 2, I speculated on the value that I add beyond the printed notes that I’ll be presenting my students with at the beginning of the semester. […]

  2. […] the teaching of my graph theory module for the current academic year, described here and here and here , a project that I didn’t complete but which is still very much on my mind.  What […]

  3. […] interested, these can be found in a fourth meditation on being a teacher, part 1 and a fourth meditation on being a teacher, part 2 and a fourth meditation on being a teacher, part 3  Looking back, I should have kept a more […]

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