Posted by Arjendu on April 30, 2008
My intro class (the half I teach) has its last class meeting today, and I’ve stuck to my guns on the non-lecturing thing. There has been strong resistance from some students, though some have loved it, and on average I would say there’s about the same level of happiness/lack thereof as I would expect from this class as if I’d lectured.
Will I do this again? Absolutely. I still think we all spent our time more efficiently, that is, learned more, and taught more. What would I do different? At the moment, the following spring to mind, in some random order:
(i) As I did during the last couple of weeks, I would absolutely ensure that some subset of the class is required to send questions. It changed their sense of engagement palpably when I did that.
(ii) Students need narrative to make sense of ideas. It’s something I enjoy providing, but for some reason I lost track of this issue during the second week. By ‘narrative’ I mean a background story, a sense of the larger context for technical ideas, all that.
(iii) Remind them periodically why I am doing things this way. More steadily and pre-complaints :-).
(iv) More examples from biology/bio-physics early in the course, for motivation, if nothing else.
(v) Introduce the spring force immediately after gravity. It’s not ‘constant’. It allows one to talk about internal degrees of freedom, as well as about the Normal force (model surfaces as very stiff springs) which would enable one to stop hemming and hawing when hit with the questions ‘does the normal force do work? If not, how do things come to a halt when they hit the ground? Or how can you jump off the ground?’.
(vi) Other issues? Something I didn’t mention earlier is that, unrelated to my decision to try something new in this class, I had been shanghaied into asked to volunteer for a pilot project on the Carleton campus to film some of our classes, and two of my classes are on film at the moment. At some point later this term I will sit down and record an interview/rumination about my teaching technique as a voice-over for these films, which would force/allow me to watch the classes and re-consider my ideas. And I’m spending a week this summer writing all this up for my colleagues during which time I will probably flesh out some of the points above and discover new ones.
(vii) One last point, in response to Chad’s comments. I agree with the issue of temperament, and all that. But there is no way that lecturing allows you to cover more material — not lecturing is significantly faster in this regard. The only way I cover more material when lecturing is to speak faster (and believe me, as a New Delhi-bred English speaker, I can speak very very fast — Texas didn’t slow me down that much). But when not lecturing, I am able to pick and choose what I do in class versus what I expect students to read and understand on their own. Moving to the trimester/term system in Carleton has reinforced this particular perspective even more strongly for me. In these last five weeks, we have ‘covered’ some or most of 11 chapters in our textbook. Mastery? That’s a whole different question :-).