A faculty colleague thought it was the worst idea ever. "We have PhDs and we know how to teach."
I had to make sure I maintained a straight face even as I kept walking away. What a level of ignorance, I thought to myself, in his conviction that people with doctorates know how to teach just because they have a PhD!
Over the years, I have had to learn how to ask questions and keep pushing students to think. Often I fail. Maybe because I am not sharp enough a teacher, or without the gravitas of a teacher, or perhaps most students don't care and merely go through the motions to earn a diploma, or perhaps it is all of the above.
But, I know that a reflective approach to teaching and learning, and reading essays about teaching, have made me a much better teacher now as compared to even five years ago. I joke with students that they ought to be happy they were not in the discussion section for which I was the teaching assistant two-plus decades ago at USC, or even when I started teaching at CalState.
Nobody ever taught me how to teach. I mean, nobody!
Now, I try my best to impress upon students the idea that in the modern world of free access to an infinite amount of written and video materials, a classroom is less and less about the instructor "lecturing" any words of wisdom, and is increasingly about students coming in to raise questions, test hypotheses, and leave with a sharper mind that gets better and better at critical thinking.
Which is why I liked a lot the following sentences:
A good lecturer doesn’t simply reproduce information or summarize knowledge to save students the effort and time of reading for themselves.As I walk past any classroom where an instructor stands in front a semi-darkened room, and with a screen that has nothing but bulleted-text of a PowerPoint slide, I wonder what it might feel like to be a student in one of those classes--to sit there through the entire meeting, week after week, for an entire term. I shudder at the thought!
A good lecturer convinces students that the theme is of first-rate importance, arousing curiosity and driving them to investigate the subject further on their own; he or she imparts genuinely new knowledge or a new point of view not obtainable in textbooks, from the Internet, or from the other obvious sources, and raises new problems upon old material, which force students to think for themselves how to solve them.
When done well, a good lecture is a useful and an effective mode of instruction because it gets students to think in ways they have not thought before, it fills in gaps in knowledge, and it cultivates understanding by correcting wrong impressions
No doubt this is easier said than done, but if you want to learn how to conduct a classroom discussion, study and imitate the mental agility of Socrates in Plato’s dialogues; if you want to know how the mind learns and retains knowledge, read and study Locke’s Of the Conduct of the Understanding and William James’s Talks to Teachers.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has launched a project on "Lecture Fail."
PowerPoint is boring. Student attention spans are short. Today many facts pop up with a simple Google search. And plenty of free lectures by the world's greatest professors can be found on YouTube.Yes, it is way past time.
Is it time for more widespread reform of college teaching?