Finally, my academic year has started. I did my first session last Friday 5th October and it was my first opportunity to put some of my PGCAP learning into practice.
I was really nervous. There were so many new things I wanted to try but wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull them off. Plus, I knew our students were deeply frustrated (in some cases, justifiably angry) about the confusion over their timetables which led to us delaying the start of teaching by one week.
I arrived early in the classroom and discovered that the AV wasn’t working! Fortunately, IT sent somebody over really quickly and did a temporary fix so we’d just about got everything working before I went “live.” I wasn’t looking forward to doing a 3 hour radio news session without being able to play students any audio at all. I need to have a Plan B in future.
Last year, I shared the module with the module leader with us teaching 2 groups of students on alternate weeks. This module, I’m teaching one group of students every week so I’m more “in charge” of the module delivery than before. I can’t rely on a senior colleague to be a safety net for my poor teaching!
Getting to know you
As I wrote in an earlier post, I wanted to get to know my students by name really early on in the module. So, I tried the sticky label approach. It works! I can probably recall at least half of the students’ names after the first session which is MUCH better than last year. I’ve asked them to upload their photos onto the Flickr site I created for the module but none of them have done that yet. I’ll keep reminding them but I’m a little disappointed.
But I definitely felt more comfortable being able to address students by name so early on in the module. It’s politeness, if nothing else!
Less is more
Last year, I felt I had to “teach like an academic” and fill every moment of my 3 hour sessions with “stuff” – me talking, me showing slides, me playing them radio examples. I’d break it up every now and then with an exercise or discussion but mainly it was about me doing stuff at them. As a result, preparing lectures took up a lot of my time – loads of slides, fancy transitions, pages of notes to remind me not to miss a single POINT that I had to make.
I did it very differently in this first lesson. I used, maybe, seven slides. I did have lots of notes I carried around but they were more of a crutch really – I didn’t look at them much. Instead, I got students to find and discus the information I wanted to get across. This was the introductory session of the module so I needed to make sure they could find their way around the module handbook and understand its role. It’s not an easy read so I got them into groups to go through it on Blackboard and put a list of facts on the screen that I wanted them to find – a bit like a treasure hunt, I hoped (I was interested to see that Chrissi used the gaming approach to the module handbook in our Tuesday session!). It seemed to work well. They located the bits of information and once they’d fed back the answers (e.g. what are the ILOs for this module), I amplified it a bit by explaining how we use learning outcomes and why they’re important.
Choreography and Architecture
(Photograph by Rachael Pazdan CC)
I thought a lot about this before the lecture. I teach in a very large space which is designed to function as a newsroom during simulations. It works less well as a teaching space. Students sit in horizontal rows with two computer screens on each desk so there are a lot of obstacles. Half the desks have their backs to the front of class. So firstly, I made students take up the front rows – no hiding at the back. Getting them to work in groups also helped break up the architecture of the room by messing up the formal rows.
And I discovered that actually I didn’t need to stay at the front of the room! I could go to the back and speak to them from there. Or sit on a desk in the middle of the room. Or just wander around. It felt much more “me” – I was part of the learning group rather than apart from it.
I like playing with new toys and so I like experimenting with the different tools on Blackboard! I decided to set them a very informal (not scored) quiz about the radio environment as an alternative to standing at the front of the class and telling them what they should listen to and what role news plays in radio networks. This quiz took me HOURS to build because I was learning as I went along. It took them about 2 minutes to complete!!! But if I do a quiz again, I’d do it a lot more quickly because I know how it works now. The students seemed to enjoy the task and most chose to do it collaboratively. They were disappointed not to get a formal score at the end! But the questions were each designed to spark a discussion as we went through the answers and I think it worked well in that sense.
Of course, I don’t KNOW that these tactics worked. What do I even mean by “worked?” I guess I mean that learning was accomplished and the students went away thinking a bit about the audio environment – its strengths and weaknesses. I also wanted the lesson to “work” in establishing a good relationship with the students and giving them an idea of what I expect from them – participation, questioning assumptions, listening to me and each other. I don’t know how to measure these things accurately at this stage. I just got a feeling it went OK. Certainly, I felt really good at the end because it felt like I was being me rather than being the lecturer I felt I ought to be.
So here’s another thought that I had afterwards. Remember we were asked to think about how we teach by considering our teaching approaches through metaphor? (Apps (1991, 23-24)) Here’s another one I’d like to add to the list – DJ!
Crazy idea! But I picked it up from a conference in Brussels last week (which I followed on Twitter) on Neo-Journalism. One of the speakers, Mark Deuze, described journalists in the social media age – where anyone can create and distribute content – as News DJs. (It’s not an entirely new idea. NPR’s Andy Carvin who “tweeted the Arab Spring” describes himself as a news DJ too). Alfred Hermida – another keynote speaker at the conference – blogged about Deuze’s speech and summarises its conclusions:
“A DJ needs to know and respect his source material, and people will respond to it. A DJ like Tiesto is not beholden to any industry. He is a global brand with a record label that pulls in other artists, says Deuze. The DJ is a key node in a network.” (2012)
Are we a bit like DJs at times when we teach? We rely on other people’s work a lot of the time. We are not the gatekeepers to knowledge any more because students can access it on the internet any time they like (similarly, journalists are no longer the gatekeepers of information). Instead, teachers need to act as nodes, pulling in the best information, repackaging it for the lecture room, creating something new, getting a response from the audience and responding back to it.
(Photo by Wesley Vieira Fonseca CC)
It got me thinking anyway…. 🙂
UPDATE: Students have now started to upload their photos to the Flickr site – and very stylish they are too!
Apps, J. (1991) Mastering the Teaching of Adults, FL: Krieger.
Hermida, A. (2012) “Mark Deuze on rethinking the journalist as a DJ when we are all media.” Retrieved from http://www.reportr.net/2012/10/03/mark-deuze-on-the-role-of-the-journalist-as-dj-when-we-are-all-media/