Home > Uncategorized > Teaching Thursday: Rethinking Lectures, Content, and the Classroom Vibe

Teaching Thursday: Rethinking Lectures, Content, and the Classroom Vibe

This past week I’ve begun to experiment with podcast lectures.  I teach our Western Civilization survey one day a week, at night, for two and a half hours.  The class enrolls between 80 and 150 students and meetings in an “lecture bowl” type room.  Traditionally, I lecture for part of the class (say an hour and a half) and then found something else to do over the remaining hour.  This sometimes involved breaking into groups, this sometimes involved focusing on a particular skill — say, paper writing — and this sometimes involved a more Socratic style “discussion” focusing on a book or a primary source.  Despite my efforts to liven up the class, the most consistent complaint from the students is that the class is too long.  On the one hand, the class doesn’t go any longer than the schedule dictates.  On the other hand, it is a long class particular for freshmen and at the 100 level. 

Long or not, I am still required to teach a certain amount of content and a certain number of skills, techniques, and methods. So, next semester I am going to try to shake things up some.  I am in the process of recording all of my lectures as podcasts.  This will move the longest and most tedious part of the class online for the students to engage at their leisure.  In fact, I find that I can trim about a half an hour from each lecture by doing it as a single uninterrupted podcast.  I have worked to eliminate many of my “pregnant pauses”, grand rhetorical gestures, questions (“… in an effort to alleviate the effects of the… Anyone? Anyone?… the Great Depression, passed the… Anyone? Anyone? The tariff Bill?…”), and digressions. The lectures are somewhat less entertaining (at least to me!), but nevertheless reflect the core concepts and narrative in the class.  It is worth noting that this is incredibly time consuming.  It takes me about 3 hours to record a 1 hour lecture.  (Ok, on some level that’s not too bad, but with 14 lectures, I reckon it will take about 40 hours).  On interesting side effect of doing all my lectures over a few weeks is that it has led to them being far more cohesive and coherent.  It is easier for me move back and forth across the lectures because, quite simply, it is easier to remember what I emphasized earlier in the week than to remember what I emphasized weeks or even months earlier.

With my lectures (and much of the formal course content; that is those things that make this course Western Civilization rather than, say, the History of Portugal) posted online, it frees up time in class to do other things.  My hope is to spend more time on the the primary and secondary source readings, in-class writing, basic composition skills, and the historical method.  More importantly, it gives me a considerable amount of freedom in the classroom and allows me to break the routine of lecture, stilted discussion, and Socratic questioning.  My impression is that this routine contributes to the sense that the class is so long as much as the actual length of the class.  My goal is, in effect, to change the classroom vibe.

Of course, this “new approach” depends on the students actually listening to the podcasts.  This is especially significant since my lectures (and subsequently the podcasts) basically replace the course textbook which I made optional because the students never read it.  With the textbook already optional (I replaced it with a more thematic introduction to pre-industrial society), I reckon that podcasts will fit more easily into the rhythms and habits of student life. 

So, this is the fourth “technological, new media, computer” kind of post this week.  For my dedicated archaeological readers, do not despair!  I have a few interesting archaeological posts dreamed up for next week and a draft of my paper for the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual meeting should appear soon (as I write it!).

More Teaching Thursdays:

Teaching Thursday: Teaching by Templates
Teaching Thursday: A Historical Perspective on Teaching Research Methods with Kate Turabian
Teaching Thursday: Teaching Time
Teaching Thursday: Classroom Modernism (K. Kourelis)
Teaching Thursday: Teaching the Election
Teaching Thursday: Making Room for Experiments
Teaching Thursday: More on Writing
Teaching Thursday: Making the Test
Teaching Thursday: Red pens, Reading, and Assessment
Teaching Thursday: The Structure of Seminar
Teaching Thursday: Jennifer Ball’s Teaching Thursday (K. Kourelis and J. Ball)
Teaching Thursday: The Changing Meaning of the Large Lecture
Teaching Thursday: The Modern Graduate Student
Teaching Thursday: Reading the Digital Palimpsest for Traces of an Analog World
Teaching Thursday: Who Are My Students? (K. Kourelis)
Teaching Thursday: Another View on High Tech Teaching
Teaching Thursday: Transmedia Teaching
Teaching Thursday (K. Kourelis)
Teaching Thursday

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