Tis the time of year when deadlines and obligations clash together like waves in a storm. The students are back, grants are submitted, budgets are revised and lectures are.... being dealt with. For the 4th time I am teaching my primary undergrad class and for the 4th time I am making substantial changes.
I simply survived the first year, as most do when they take on a full course for the first time. That first year was a whirlwind for both myself and the students. It seemed that I have to pack every lecture with info so I could keep from ending early. 1 slide a minute? I had to make it nearly 1.5. I had no gauge of what the students could handle and I fed them with a fire hose.
In year two I made the course actually make some sense. Cut back a bit and spent more time going to the board. In year three I finally felt like I had tweaked it enough that the students were getting something out of it instead of just making it through.
But I'm tired of being frustrated by the inability of much of the class to grasp some core concepts - concepts that are repeated throughout the course. While I think part of that failure falls on them, there's no way I escape blame. No matter how clear I think I'm being, it's not getting through. Time for a new strategy. I've used this space before to get teaching advice and this year I'm doing my damnedest to get away from straight lecture.
It's been hard. Lecturing is safe and easy. It's what we are used to. In some ways it is what they expect. But it hasn't been working well for me. So I am implementing both clickers and Think-Pair-Share into my class. Yesterday's trial run was good and I kept the students engaged. The first day of class is hardly time to take the students' temperature, but it was a good start.
But most of all, using these strategies has forced me to evaluate every slide in my arsenal and ask "why are you here?" Some material has to go to make room for stopping the class for discussions, and it has made me look at each slide to wonder what it's purpose is, in a new light. This might be the most valuable part of changing my class style - hacking off the vestigial material from when I couldn't have enough stuffed in there.
At a time when I least need it, I've increased my workload this semester by virtue of making the change, but feeling far more satisfied with my class is rewarding in itself. Hopefully I can maintain my enthusiasm for this new source of late nights as the semester progresses.