Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sharing Professors

A colleague of mine at another university is teaching a course that he has taught before, but not recently. This is the first time he has taught this particular course in the PowerPoint Era. I have taught this course more recently and more often, so he asked me if I would be willing to send him all of my class materials for this course. Converting an entire course to a new format is a huge amount of work -- almost as much work as teaching the course for the first time, especially if you haven't taught the course in a long time.

I was happy to help my friend, and I sent him all my course materials. (Long-time readers of this blog may recall a previous mention of my friend/colleague who was a - in fact, the - bridesmaid at my wedding -- this is the same guy). Other colleagues and I who teach this same introductory level course also share course materials with each other. For this particular course, I have shared course material with ~ 7-8 colleagues in my own department and beyond.

Helping each other in this way isn't (necessarily) being lazy; it's a great way to get new images and ideas. Last year, an assistant professor and I shared course materials for the same course, and this worked out well for both of us. He was teaching the course for the first time and I was teaching it for the millionth time, but we have different fields of expertise and so each had zippy images and ideas for different parts of the course.

Similarly, I hope the friend to whom I just sent my course materials will in turn send his revised versions back to me for when I teach the course next year. There are some topics on which he is more expert than I am, and I am looking forward to seeing what he adds or improves for those topics.

Although my presentations get better with time owing to their being rejuvenated by new material obtained by this sharing, there will never be a time when I have the perfect set of prepared presentations for this class. The great thing about Science is that there is always something new and interesting to talk about -- and to figure out how to teach -- so the course material is always changing.


EuropeanFemaleScienceProfessor said...

I also willingly share my materials - I produced them on public money, so I feel that they belong to the general public.

Problems arise when colleagues use the materials 1-1 and replace my name with theirs. When I then teach the class again, I get accused of "plagiarizing" the (male) colleagues material....

I now put my materials under Creative Commons license - free to remix, but I want my name in there. And no commercial use. I've had companies steal my exercises and my slides, and then threaten to sue *me* over copyright infringement when I request a donation from them. Putting licenses on stuff makes it clear from the start.

Oh, and the spiffy images should all be yours or attributed. I really love Flickr for this - you can restrict your search to CC-BY pictures, so you just have to put a little "c.2007 Whamabunga" next to the picture and then you really spiff things up.

Interestingly enough, it tends to be the women at the schools I have taught at who freely exchange amongst themselves. I have received much material from women, never from a man. Strange, that.

Sara said...

The more I read your blog, the more I wish I would have had the opportunity to have you as my science professor somewhere along the way. Maybe I'be a scientist rather than an economist!
Of course, both fields are difficult for men, let alone for women, in my country (Italy), that's one of the reasons Italy experiences a serious brain-drain. Nobody shares anything, and talk about deadwood... All the smart people try, and when they see it's impossible to change the system, they leave. Very sad.

Schlupp said...

I only heard of the idea that sharing one's coursework is laziness in the US. In MyCountry, it is called "being efficient" and "not re-inventing the wheel."

EarlyToBed said...

I'm also a big believer in sharing course content. It is a great way to refresh and improve course material.

The prof. whose teaching responsibilities I took over, and who had won several teaching awards on campus, felt differently about this. He told me that he was going to be helpful by providing me with a "fresh start" and shared absolutely none of his materials.

I will share everything.

eh said...

Reminds me a bit of when I was a student and we would also share class materials, such as homework solutions and old exams.

ordinary girl said...

This comment is off-topic, but over at Living the Scientific Life there's an article about women, science, and writing that I thought you might enjoy reading. You may have seen it already.

ordinary girl said...

I'm sorry, I forgot to include a link.


Anonymous said...

I was very pleased to have materials shared a couple years ago when about to teach a new (to me) course with very little warning (about 2 weeks before class started). I was pleased, that is, until I looked at the powerpoint presentations. They were truly awful. For a one hour lecture, 15 slides, some with pictures that were difficult to see on my monitor, much less projected for a room with 60 people. The text was strewn about the images, if there were any, in apparently random sized but always-too-small font, with no obvious organization whatsoever. I couldn't complain or say much, because it was a good friend of many years who had taught the course before, and generously gave me his files.

I ended up making my own slides, from nothing. I showed them to him after the second time I taught the course, and he was really impressed with them. I've passed them along to the next instructor of the course, but I don't know what horrors he found about my presentation, and I don't know if he used them.