Yesterday, I taught my very first “real” lecture, for EOSC*372, Introductory Oceanography – Circulation and Plankton. Having previously given various presentations (which I firmly believe are not the same as lessons), led group inquiry for young students at the Aquarium, and taught ten-minute practice lessons, I had been informally waiting for this day, yet did not know the time was upon me until just one week ago.
Indeed, it was a “real” lecture (50 minutes) with “real” students (undergrads actually taking the class for credit)! And there were over two hundred “real” students present! The lecture itself was only semi-“real” as it was a previously-taught review, but I worked, revamped, and took ownership over the lesson as if it were my creation.
Despite my previously mentioned related experiences, teaching yesterday was (not unexpectedly) something totally new. Stakes were much higher in that everyone in the room was actually focused on the content rather than my teaching skills. As a participant and facilitator in EOSC 516, I am used to the feedback and focus being on the process, not the content. Focus aside, I felt an added sense of pressure in the sheer number of students, as well as the fact that 3 faculty and 3 fellow Teaching Assistants were present to see and/or evaluate my performance (I invited the evaluations).
Time did it’s thing – the lecture came and went. It was a very rewarding experience, though I am glad to get the first “real” lecture behind me. In retrospect, I learned some interesting things about myself and my teaching style yesterday, what I find challenging and what I find easy. I use the term “easy” lightly – let’s keep in mind that it was my first “real” lecture, so easy means I made an effort or had some success.
The most significant success I had relates to student-instructor interaction. I’ve found the class quite quiet throughout the semester: even when asked questions by the instructors, there is usually only one or two students that answer. However, I managed to elicit responses from at least SIX students! That’s more than one student per every ten minute block of teaching! Hurrah! I think some of them had never spoken up before in the class at all. About this I feel very excited.
This “achievement” has validated a component of my teaching philosophy-in-progress that I unraveled as I prepared for this very lecture. In-situ technology such as iClickers are a great tool to involve a room of students and evaluate the lot’s understanding, but they actually limit student interaction with the professor. Students can easily avoid using their voice in class when there’s a wireless baton that can anonymously speak for you. Clicker (multiple choice) questions can be designed well, but student misconceptions may be best identified when you have a student explaining exactly what they understand. I designed my lecture to include a mix of multiple choice and open-ended questions, to gauge class understanding and facilitate conversation, and found it worked well.
Successes aside, there were a few unanticipated challenges that arose in class yesterday. Perhaps the most surprising (and unfortunately, recurring) issue was that of introducing my multiple choice Clicker questions. As soon as I’d reach a Clicker question slide, I would feel enormous pressure to hush up immediately so that the students could read the question and decide upon their answer; thus my introductions to these slides were very undeveloped and awkward. I will have to practice giving concise introductions to each Clicker slide and not activating the Clicker software (which counts their responses) until I am finished speaking. Struggles with speaking aptly has always been a challenge for me, unless I have rehearsed every line; so this experience fits in with a general goal I have to work on my nerves in order to speak more comfortably (and I’ll bet, more eloquently as a result).