Monday, September 04, 2006


Over the summer, I've done a lot of the kind of teaching that involves working individually with undergraduates and grad students on research projects. Tomorrow will involve a dramatic switch to the stand-in-front-of-a-big-class and *lecture*, although of course we aren't supposed to really *lecture*, because students apparently don't learn well in that format anymore (did they used to? is it really such a bad thing even today?). Unless I'm willing to throw out a large proportion of my course's content, which I am not willing to do, the class is going to be mostly *lecture* format. I like to think that my socratic style, use of some in-class activities, thrilling mix of powerpoint+chalkboard-writing+demonstrations, and availability for discussion/help outside of class make the lecture format effective for this class. Maybe my pedagogical imagination is limited, but this is a big university, I get these students in class for < 2 hours/week, and I have a huge amount to teach them.

Predicted positive aspects of this class:
- It's an interesting subject and I enjoy teaching it.
- Typically, at least 50% of the students in it WANT to be there; the rest have to take it for various degree requirements.
- There have been some interesting new developments in this sub-discipline, and I'm looking forward to incorporating these into the class. It's not my major field of research, but it's not too far removed from what I do, so I can also mention relevant aspects of my own research.
- It's a great course for taking a bunch of students who know nothing about the topic at the beginning, and ending up with a group in which at least some will be so interested that they will get involved in research by the end of the year.

Possible negative or worrisome aspects of this class:
- In the 15+ years I've been teaching this or similar classes, I've never had so few female students (a trend or a random occurrence?).
- It's the first 'serious' course in this discipine that some students have taken, and it can be a bit of a shock for some.
- Although there are some allied science/math prerequisites for this course, the registration system does not have the ability to notice if students have actually taken these. It always amazes me that students without the prereqs do not think it is their responsibility to know the information in those courses, and they want me or the TA's to give them extra help and/or they just don't think they should be expected to know this information. I hope this is not an issue this semester.
- The other professor who teaches this class is convinced that he does it better than I do owing to his superior intellect and teaching skills (or something), and he likes to chat with me about my shortcomings. I do not enjoy these conversations, although mostly I think they are ridiculous. I am sure there are things I could do to improve as a teacher, but I happen to know that my teaching evaluations are better than his (I was on a committee that looked at such things for the department) and I've won teaching awards. See earlier post on patronizing colleagues.


Unknown said...

Wouldn't it be lovely if he happened across this blog?

Ms.PhD said...

the thing about you getting better evaluations than him made me laugh.

re: prereqs, why not just ask the student on Day 1 whether they've taken them, give them a stern warning that it's going to be sink or swim and that the faint of heart should get out now.

that's what my professors always did, and people actually did switch out of the classes within the first week. i think it was better for everyone.

I don't believe in 'recommended' prereqs- it's an oxymoron. Either they're REQUIRED or they're NOT.