Monday, 19 October 2015

How to be a lecturer just as good as me

Lately, perhaps as a reflex of the news that there will soon be a TEF, articles have often included advice on how to do lecturing better. This THE article, for instance, talks about how to engage with sullen students. It has some good practical advice in it, if you scroll down, but the contribution from Tara Brabazon is about as useful as her earlier advice on how to write a PhD thesis just like hers. She tells us everything that was wrong with the way her unfortunate colleague has been teaching the students, leaving them unresponsive and robotic. She tells us that she plays music five minutes before the start of her lectures, and '[they] have a dance and a sing and it orients students into a learning experience'. Eventually, after 'exertion and stress' and 'the constant trickle of stress down [her] back', the 'students revealed a shard of light'. Great. I'll just do that then, shall I? 

This person writing in the NYT is similarly exercised:

Holding their attention is not easy. I lecture from detailed notes, which I rehearse before each class until I know the script well enough to riff when inspiration strikes. I pace around, wave my arms, and call out questions to which I expect an answer. When the hour is done, I’m hot and sweaty.
I don't know what kind of place these people teach in. I can't play music five minutes before the start of my lectures: there's another lecture taking place in the room. I do see the benefit, though, as playing music during group discussion in seminars seems to help students relax (though it didn't make a difference to their marks in a study I conducted last year).

I don't think it's necessarily good advice to promote the idea that because you're working up a sweat and pacing around, that you're working hard and lecturing well. Students don't often appreciate pacing around, for example. It would be much better to find out what actually works in a lecture scenario from the students' point of view (and the advice lower down in the THE article does just that). Much of the subjective, I-work-bloody-hard stuff seems to be defensive in the face of a perceived slight against the traditional lecture format. I've seen other articles defending chalk and blackboard over PowerPoint and so on. If there is any attack on traditional lecturing, it's coming from the right place: from research showing how effective learning takes place, and from the need for accessibility for those with dyslexia, visual impairments, and other conditions that make taking down an hour of uninterrupted talking difficult.

I put a lot of effort into my lectures, because I genuinely find the topic interesting and I get excited about it. I hope that this comes across and helps students to find it interesting too. But sweating? I don't know how you work up a sweat by walking and talking, because I don't. Working from a detailed script is another matter. I don't. I have slides, and I know what I want to say, but I don't read a script because I think it can be boring for the listener. If you can do it well, I daresay this is an inspiring type of lecture to be in. But I don't have time to rehearse thoroughly before each lecture when I teach around 12 hours a week. Is the TEF going to penalise those of us with heavier teaching loads?

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