Monday, November 28, 2005


I was taped last Wednesday, teaching part of the ASE 2 lecture for the day, on "group discussion." I watched the video right after class.

It was the first time I've seen myself teach. Every week in ASE 1 the students see themselves on video, and often freak out. "I didn't know I sounded like that." "Is that what I really look like?" Because of this, I was a little nervous about watching myself on tape.

The surprising thing is that I was impressed: I liked my voice, and I liked my presence, in generaly. Did notice a few nervous tics, and a habit to lean forward with my hands on the chair, when I could have been moving more.

Class was structured so that I first introduced a brief discussion: the students broke into groups and had to discuss a topic chosen from a variety written on the blackboard. We then talked for a few minutes about what ideas about discussion had come up in the course of the short discussion, using that to transition into a talk about what makes up a successful discussion, as well as the benefits of using discussion as a teaching technique. Finally, they took half an hour to actually have a discussion, moderated by one of the students; Gordon and I sat back to watch.

My goal was basically to present a few ideas on useful skills and behaviors both for moderators and participants in a discussion, and I wanted it to be as interactive as possible, ideally eliciting most or all of the ideas from the class. In a sense, it was similar to the PowerPoint presentation from the previous week-- I had an outline in mind, and my job was to elicit that outline from the students. Not having PowerPoint, however, did give me more flexibility.

I decided to write down ideas on the board, as students mentioned them. There were two reasons for this: 1) for me to make sure all important issues had been covered 2) as a reference for the students during their moderated discussion. Writing the issues & skills down also encouraged participation, I hoped-- by writing down what they said, I showed the students that their words mattered. They were creating the material, in a sense.

I'm a visual learner and need this reference. A thing can be explained to me a thousand times, but I won't get it until I have a brief outline of it written down. I realized, upon watching the video, that perhaps noting down the issues the students brought up was more important for me than it was for them. This tactic tied me to one spot, and it made it harder to listen to the students: they were less willing to speak while I wrote, despite my assurances that I was still listening. It's also awkward, though not impossible, to maintain eye contact while writing on the blackboard. Writing their ideas also created an implicit hierarchy: it was obvious that if I didn't write something down, then no matter how important I said it was, I didn't consider it very relevant.

It was a pretty interactive lecture: I asked questions, but they provided the content. They had good things to say, and my only job was to synthesize and organize what they were saying, and to keep them on task. Not very tough. Next time I teach a similar lesson, I'd like to think about different ways of presenting the material. The blackboard was definitely better than PowerPoint-- it gave me more flexibility and the students more control-- but it has its drawbacks as well.

Some other ways of keeping track of a lecture:
- nothing. Talk, ask questions, take my own notes and summarize/ repeat information based on those notes. It's the students' responsibility, as the discussion progresses, to take their own notes based not on any written material but on what we talk about, and what I emphasize.
- handouts. Write up an outline of the presentation, print out a copy for each student, and distribute the copies. The students can take additional notes on the handouts.
- nothing, but make my notes accessible on the Internet after class.
- assign each student to keep track of a different aspect of the presentation. Give them 5 - 10 min towards the end of class to "compare notes": to re-hash, in their own words, what in the lecture was important, and how best to remember it.
- handouts of details: provide handouts, not of the outline of the presentation, but of quotes, examples, photographs, and the like. The handouts are not designed to replace or even augment the notes, but rather to serve as visual aids that the teacher can reference and give illustrations from.
- PowerPoint on a similar model: not the skeleton of the lecture, but rather maps/ pictures/ charts to go along with the lecture.


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