Saturday, October 10, 2009

lessons learned about teaching

In my daily classes and lectures I have been learning a huge amount, but not just about the scientific content being discussed. I frequently find myself thinking about whether the lecturer's style and presentation are effective, and what specific things I can hold on to to make my future talks better. I have started keeping a seminar notebook that I bring to all the out-of-class talks that I go to, and more often that not I write down hints about how to make powerpoint presentations engaging (for example start out by giving the audience a puzzle and offer a prize at the end for someone who figures it out), or things to avoid (for example, giving your presentation to the board and not noticing a question in the audience because your back is turned). I have even come up with a set of symbols for these notes so that I can flip through and immediately find all of the powerpoint hints, or all of the references I meant to look up, or all of the ideas about my own research that have come out of these talks. Yes, I am an organizational nerd for doing this, but I don't care! Flipping through my notebook and seeing the symbols I have created for myself makes me feel on top of things... and I'll take that in whatever small ways I can.

I have also been thinking about teaching methodology. This week I had a take home exam, and I can't decide whether I want to avoid giving this type of assignment because the professor created an absurdly frustrating test that was so open-ended that it sucked up as much time as you were willing to give to it (I spend about 15 hours before giving up), or if I think the professor actually created a really valuable assignment because it was a learning experience in itself rather than simply being an exercise in regurgitating details provided to us during lecture.

In one class this week we had a guest teacher who did a great job mixing powerpoint slides with posing questions to his audience, and writing things on the board. I have typically either done a powerpoint lecture, or done an interactive activity, but seeing this professor do both was very cool. The powerpoint had images and figures that would have been too difficult to draw on the board, but it also kept the professor from going too far off track. Simultaneously he was asking us questions (how would you test for X in this case?) and using the answers pulled from the group to guide the outline of notes he was writing on the board. While I was totally bored by the topic (experiments testing genetic controls on bacterial cell division) I was very engaged in trying to pick apart his methods. Hopefully I will be able to emulate them in the future! Unfortunately this was a class and not a seminar, so I was not taking notes in my seminar notebook... I guess this exposes a flaw in my elegant organizational system. :(

The idea of teaching students to think critically and providing them with the tools to teach themselves rather than teaching them facts is one that seems like an enlightened strategy in theory, but in practice I think is very difficult to pull off. Any thoughts on this from all you educators out there?

1 comment:

  1. I think that's a great idea! I wish I had something like that. Maybe I should start. I took a lot of mental notes in classes with one of my committee members. He's captivating- easily one of the most brilliant minds and best teachers I've ever had. Thanks for sharing your teaching tip book idea!