Some wag in the comments to my last post not-so-subtly noted the slight lack of blogging activity from yours truly in the last few weeks. There are actually three inter-related reasons for this impromptu break. Firstly, I’ve been lecturing three times a week for most of the last month, so quite a few of my evenings have been spent preparing for them. Secondly, I had to fight off a bout of stomach flu, which meant that the times when I wasn’t preparing for lectures I didn’t really feel like doing anything. Thirdly, my days at work have been spent in the lab trying to get our new magnetometer working properly. All this has meant that my blogging muse has had to get used to being crowded out.
Lecturing has, as usual, left me feeling rather ambivalent. Standing up in front of an entire class is where I suffer the most from imposter syndrome. I’ve never received any formal education training, after all, and the lecture theatre is when I feel that lack the most. When demonstrating in labs and on field trips, and supervising students on projects, there is at least the prospect of being able to assess your own effectiveness, by talking with the students, and checking their work, and asking them questions. Through these constant interactions, I’ve managed (hopefully) to become a better teacher – I can see which approaches work, which don’t, and, more importantly, identify problems in understanding as they come up and deal with them accordingly. Standing up at the front of a lecture theatre, it’s much more difficult: you do most of the talking, they do most of the listening. Even if you encourage the students to ask questions, it’s not exactly common, so you find yourself wondering whether they’re not asking questions because they’ve understood what you’ve been talking about, or because they don’t want to admit that you lost them within the first five minutes. Of course, given how tentative most post-grads/docs are in asking questions during and after talks, you can hardly blame first years for being a little cautious about speaking up.
So although I’ve done a fair amount of lecturing now, it worries me that I really can’t say with any confidence if I’m actually any good at it or not. I think I’ve gotten much better at pacing myself, and not trying to cram too much information into too short a time – lectures are sort of like anti-conference talks, which is a bit of a problem when that’s your only real experience when you first start lecturing. I’ve also begun to appreciate that a pen and whiteboard can be much more effective than a powerpoint slide and laser pointer, especially when you’re talking about basic concepts. But still, I fret. Perhaps my readers have some suggestions for how you can objectively assess your effectiveness in the lecture theatre beyond the quality of answers in the exam. Just remember – I’m not a member of the teaching staff; I was covering part of a course for a member of staff who was on sabbatical. So it’s hardly my place to completely retool the teaching model.
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