Early in my teaching career, I contemplated the fact that there is a particular concept that is rather central to my Science but that is extremely difficult to explain. I experimented with various approaches:
- explaining a little bit about it so that students would at least have a general idea of what was involved, or
- spending a lot of time explaining in depth how the concept worked and why it was important and how it could be applied.
I wasn't happy with either one. One was too shallow and unsatisfactory and the other took up too much time in a team-taught course. Over the years, I tried various intermediate strategies, supplemented the course material with assignments, and tried to determine what worked and what didn't.
It took years, but eventually I figured out The Absolute Best Way to teach this concept (at least for me). I spent a few more years tinkering with it, and then I started talking to colleagues about it. I got invited to demonstrate it at some conferences and workshops devoted to teaching, and I gave the module some science ed people to distribute and make available to others.
It's not perfect (yet). Every year I adjust it a bit depending on the specific group of students, I replace old examples with new examples, and so on. I don't want this teaching module to be something static that I teach over and over and over for the rest of my life. But at the same time, I am pleased with it. I feel like I have solved a challenging puzzle and I like the fact that this module has been exported to other universities and can benefit other professors and students.
So this week was The Week in which I taught this particular part of the course. I always look forward to this. It's kind of like performing a favorite old song or acting a favorite role. No matter how many times I've performed The Module, though, I always 'practice' before class, at least in terms of looking over some notes and thinking about the examples I want to use.
I sometimes wonder whether I should tell the students about the history of this teaching module. Would they think it was interesting or would they think it was strange and irrelevant? I don't want to impress them (and I don't think this would), but maybe they would think it was kind of cool that this module, developed here in their department, was being used at other schools. Or maybe they would think I need to get out more, maybe get some hobbies.
When we teach, many of us present the material as if we just happen to know this stuff and are now telling some students about it. It's hard to know how much work goes into preparing a class until you've done it yourself, but, although it would be nice if students appreciated the great amount of effort involved in teaching, in a way it's also good if the students see our teaching as 'effortless'.
I think I'll keep the back-story of this teaching module in the background for now and just focus on trying it out on a new group of students. I am always curious to see how they respond to the questions I ask during class and how they do on the assignment after. If I ever make Teaching Module : The Movie on a DVD, I can put the back-story and the out-takes there.
5 days ago