Saturday, September 15, 2007

First week of teaching

Challenging but fun. I think that sums it up. There were three sessions this week, all very different.

The first event was a "mass lecture" starting at 8 am on Monday morning. I had done a lot of preparation for this, as I wanted to get a good start. Also I wanted to try to get the students (most of whom are first year students, and this was the first ever uni lecture for them as well) participate actively, and I had prepared a number of features that would do that.

Some other teachers had warned me that sometimes it is very hard to get people to chip in and take part. And I knew this would occasionally happen even in the supervisions where there are only three people, not to mention how easily this is the case in a larger lecture, especially given the time of day of this lecture. On the other hand, as I knew most of these people have never been to a lecture before, they don't have preconceptions about them. So if I make them talk they will think that is the way these things work.

Beforehand I was also worried about time usage. I had 1.5 hours to fill and quite frankly I had no idea how much stuff will fit in. Also, I didn't know how much input I would get from students and whether a discussion I had planned to use 5 minutes for would take 10 minutes or 30 seconds.

I think it went well. People were active, had good ideas and comments and seemed interested in the subject. Timing was also good and I'm looking forward to the second lecture the day after tomorrow.

The second lecture was with a smaller bunch of people and I was giving it together with a lecturer who used to teach me when I was doing my first degree. Therefore this time I was more worried about her than the crowd... We have very different viewpoints to research and that is exactly why we are giving this course together. The first lecture we give together, then we alternate, and at the end of the course we again have a session together, to wrap it up.

The lecture perhaps started a bit slow, but gained momentum as we progressed. She kept challenging me and the point of view I was representing, and I was on the defensive. I did challenge her as well, but perhaps not quite as strongly. But again, people were well engaged, sometimes clearly amused or even astonished by our debate, and it was a positive experience. In a way, the old teacher-student relationship faded and was replaced by a more equal colleague-colleague -relationship. She has been very kind in actively promoting this transition, which of course has made things easy for me.

The third session was the first seminar session for those starting their bachelor's dissertations. I found it almost impossible to prepare for this, as I had no clue if people had plans about topics already or not, and as a consequence I didn't know how the conversation would go. This time, it didn't. The students were a bit unsure about me, and didn't really volunteer comments. I tried to ask about the kind of supervision or teaching they'd think they required, but I think it would have been better just to present my own plan regardless of it possibly being repetitive or patronising or over their heads.

Some people were even talking among themselves and writing notes to each other while I was trying to ask people about their topics. I was thinking of shutting them up, but restrained as they are adults, not kids, and I was hoping to be able to treat them as such. I got their attention with a longer monologue about scientific writing, but eventually I decided to stop short and use only one hour of the two we had scheduled as there clearly wasn't any reason to keep going. Instead I asked them all to come see me individually to talk about their plans and topics, and these meetings have been much more fruitful, and I feel I'm winning them over one by one. I have also decided to knock them out with the next session and will take a much stronger role there. And make them work hard.

All in all, I think it has been a positive start. Preparing for these lectures and seminar sessions has taken a lot of time, though. This is mostly because I'm now responsible for the whole course, from deciding the content to choosing the methods, selecting the reading material and deciding what to do with people who can't make it to the lectures but really would like to pass the course or started the course a year ago but are now having kids and refurbishing their houses 100 kilometres from here or did a course by the same name in a polytechnic some years back. Therefore I can't just prepare stuff as the course progresses (like I could when I was supervising), but the preparation needs to be done in advance. For me, this means doing it now, as I learned about teaching these courses so late. Needless to say that I haven't done anything to my t***** in two weeks, but I'm optimistic I can get back to that towards the end of next week.

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