Thursday, 13 July 2006


I am now a Person with a Training and will not tolerate unfair discrimination against me because of my training, which does not define me! It is just one more attribute of my being. Why can't others learn to see the whole person and not just the Train? The course was really very interesting and taught me lots. Sorry to be a traitor to the principle that workplace training is fundamentally Brentian, but there you go. It's quite true that the cardi I wore today does have a lot of pills which need picking off, but they're concetrated in the underarm area and I didn't want to look like a gibbering ape, or no more than usual.

Yesterday we learned about the benefits and disadvantages of large group and small group teaching, again mostly from the point of view of what the student gets out of it. And also about online learning. And about evaluation of teaching, as in Rate My Professors but done by the government (and probably not including a Hotness criterion.)

Today we learned about assessment as a teaching tool. And then the really terrifying part, we split into three groups of eight and everyone had to do a five minute lecture (you could prepare it the night before), be videotaped, watch the tape, and be constructively critiqued by everyone else.

I am a really, really bad public speaker. Mine was by far the worst. It was actually quite incompetent. I knew perfectly well before that I'm really bad at lecturing, though, and I don't mind the humiliation a bit if it means I have some ideas about how to go about remedialling myself. The instructor encouraged us to list what we did well before listing what we did badly. I did well at not speaking too quickly, having an interesting thing to talk about, doing a "trick" with Powerpoint that they liked, although between you and me it is a side-effect of having learnt to use PPT by guessing, and at making the "students" interested in the subject themselves. I did very badly at estimating how much I could get through in the time -- I had far too much prepared -- and at being confident enough to do without notes. I had to write sentences and read them off the sheet of paper, and after seeing myself do that on a video, I know now I've really got to stop it because it's totally appalling. Nobody else had notes, they just put up overheads or Powerpoint slides and elaborated or improvised on the slide's themes. So. much. better. I "need" the notes just as a crutch and for no other reason. It is not like I don't know what to say without them, more that I'm afraid of going off on a tangent so far that I can't get back (but the slides will help there) or worried I'll miss out on some essential piece of information, or that I'll present it in some nonlogical sequence that's needlessly hard to assimilate. Well the way I do it now is obscure and difficult anyway, with bonus lack of confidence and dullness. May as well at least cut down on the dullness if I can. On the other hand, one of those other people lost it completely about a minute in and had to start again. I'd rather not have seen that happen. But the instructor said we will all do it at some point and we might as well think of a plan B for when it does happen to us.

In some ways the best thing about this session, and this goes for the whole three days as well, was meeting people from all over the university who I would never normally encounter. They came from Health Sciences, Physiotherapy, Statistics, Mathematics, Economics, Nursing and Midwifery, Physics, Biochemistry, Computer Science, graduate school of Management, Accounting, Media Studies, and some others I've forgotten. In the mini lecture thing today everyone had to speak about something they would really lecture on, so I learned about:

- Plagiocephalic babies and how to treat them

- Free indirect speech (that was my effort)

- Financial accounting

- Special theory of relativity

- Embryonic stem cell cloning

- Fishpond method for estimating errors in computer programs

- neonatal resuscitation

- Macroeconomics

It was all really interesting and good.


Pavlov's Cat said...

It sounds all really interesting and good.

Do you remember Hannibal Lecter's memory palace in Hannibal? It's a classical rhetoric technique and it does work. I sometimes use a version of it when I have to speak, and it really does stop you from losing track, especially if you use a building you know well as a model.

FXH said...

Make 'em laff.

Lucy Tartan said...

Easy for you to say .... with me or against me, d'ye think?

I'll try to work the subject around to whaling so I can crack your joke about how to keep the whales on the farm....teh funniest thing I read at LP for ages...

naomi said...

Lecturing is so hard and scary - I sweat buckets and get really hot! I am pretty good at working to slides and PPT, but I have to write the lectures out completely and read them (mostly). When you are new, and writing two lectures a week from scratch (which clock in at 4,000 words each) it's just not possible to feel so comfortable with your material that you can rattle it off without notes. Having power point (and inserting 'change slide' in your notes) makes a huge difference, as does making sure you've got clear points and you lay them out at the start and wrap them up at the end - it's not like a journal artice.

Even though I did read most of my lectures my first student assessments were overwhelmingly positive. The really good students lapped up the content, but I have to say the poorer students complained about me reading. They seem to get something out of the song and dance routine that really experienced lecturers can do. I'll get there one day, but I figure it's better to annoy some by reading than to let them down by winging it and presenting a long series of umms and aaahs.

elsewhere said...

I am really anti-powerpoint: I think it becomes a crutch and ends up being over-used AND that it has a slightly mesmeric effect on people and puts them to sleep. So I've abandoned it altogether and returned to overheads (much less time-consuming) and restricted myself to an upper limit of 7 slides per seminar (we teach in seminars here). Usually I talk to bullet-point style notes I've written for myself, but if something is more complex and requires reading whole sentences verbatim, I give them a warning and say something like, 'Right, I'm going to read straight from my notes now because the next points I'd like to make are a little complex. You might like to take notes or ask questions afterwards.' I try not to do this for more than ten minutes. (My real problem is going off at a tangent and raving on about something that happens to interest me for ages -- watch those eyes glass over!) I also hand out copies of my overheads at the beginning of the class for them to make notes on, if they want.

Kate said...

I don't know about powerpoint in academia, but I hate it in the corporate world. I once attended a THREE HOUR LONG powerpoint presentation on audio cables and I thought I was going to die. So really, nothing could be as bad as that. But I suppose PPT par for the course now, isn't it and I might as well give up resisting?

I have to say debating and public speaking in high school are actually othe few naff extra-curricular activities I did that have held me in good stead as an adult. Playing the Cowardly Lion in our production of the The Wiz has not had me in any stead.

FXH said...

Did I make a whale joke?

Comes from watching too many Carry On movies, Are You Being Served, listening to My Word on radio and having a mother (and father) who was a bit of a smartarse. I then raised my kids on watching The Goodies, Get Smart and The Kenny Everett Show.

I knew all this would pay off one day. So now I can say I have a fulltime job as scriptwriter for a part time lecturer in books (or something). I'll bill monthly in advance.

Anonymous said...

Computers throw me completely in public. They turn me into a mumbling wreck. A piece of paper with the topics written out is enough.

After all, you do know what you are talking about.

If the topics are logically sequential, they should grow neatly.

I don't have many rules about. I came to the occasional lecture only after I had done heaps of teaching to adults in half day or even full day seminars, where you really learn to think on your feet.

And I rely a lot on interaction. Stop and ask for questions. If I lose my place I ask them where I am up to. I will stop for a think occasionally. They don't mind.

When I see fabulous people collapse on the podium, I just think something has happened about ego protection and self-consciousness. Once I learnt to accept that it didn't matter if I made a shameless fool of myself, I was fine.

You have all the skills to do it so well; there's just a little psychological stutter in the way, about something completely trivial - how people might feel about you if you really buggered it up, but of course you wont and even if you did the students will still forgive you.

- barista

Pavlov's Cat said...

Some things I learned in my life as a lecturer:

a) Don't extrapolate from your own experience as a student. You must have been near the top of the class (and therefore atypical) or you wouldn't be where you are now. It took me years to learn this.

b) Students love headings, especially if you write them up on the board/overhead/PPT as you go along (so they realise when you have moved on to the next one; many don't, if they write them all down at the beginning).

c) Keep something in reserve, written down as a dot point, that you KNOW you can talk about off the top of your head till Sunday. If you freeze, that point is your Get Out of Jail card.

d) It doesn't matter if it doesn't fit into your argument or train of thought, because

e) only the best students will notice that you are following a train of thought in the first place, and anyway

f) apparently university students take in approx. 11% of what is said to them in lectures.

Suse said...

When I was selected to be an exchange student in high school (20 years ago), we all had to join the Toastmasters for a couple of months as part of our preparation. It was pretty cheesy but incredibly useful. They taught us all sorts of memory tricks and Get Out of Jail Free cards. It was also, contrary to popular opinion among our rowdy group of 17 year old smart arses, great fun.

PS. I just got Bazlotto! What's the non-prize for not winning?

PPS. Was the whale joke that bumper sticker that reads "Keep Gay Whales in the Ground"?

Lucy Tartan said...

Powerpoint isn't so bad. Don't take away from me one of the few things I can actually manage, people! I might write another post about that subject, actually.

The whale joke: set-up question here (Gummo)

and punchline here (FXH)

Mel said...

Saw this and couldn't help thinking of you...