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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

One of the incidental benefits of researching the piece I’m currently trying to finish, exploring my attempt at turning the Melian Dialogue into a ‘choose your own adventure’ game, has been the discovery (courtesy of an article by Shawn Graham) of the concept of the ‘creepy treehouse’. To quote a definition from Jared M. Stein (cited from this blog, as the original page seems to have disappeared from the internet and links are broken):

Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards. Such institutional environments are often seen as more artificial in their construction and usage, and typically compete with pre-existing systems, environments, or applications. Creepy treehouses also have an aspect of closed-ness, where activity within is hidden from the outside world, and may not be easily transferred from the environment by the participants.

A concrete example: the blog or discussion board facilities on Blackboard and similar Virtual Learning Environments. We look at these and see a useful tool for our teaching, encouraging students to engage with the topic and with each other outside class, hoping to draw on the fact that they allegedly spend all their time online anyway; they see somewhere that is trying to look welcoming and familiar but isn’t, because they didn’t build it, and so at best this is a bit creepy, and most likely it’s some sort of trap… (more…)

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There’s been a lot of discussion on the Twitter this week about an advertised vacancy for a fixed-term teaching position that expects the successful candidate to devise an MA module related to their own research. I’m going to out myself as an Old Person, and possibly bring a shower of condemnation on my head, by confessing that my feelings about this are more mixed than the prevalent judgement that this is obviously and unacceptably exploitative. In my day, when I was applying for such positions, I was far more attracted to positions that offered such freedom rather than defining the job in terms of which pre-existing courses should be taught – and, yes, it’s entirely revealing that I think of this in terms of ‘freedom’. (more…)

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fashion 1There are many things, both serious and funny, to be said about the new advert from The Gap allegedly showing the ‘Tenure-Track Professor’ look, complete with one of the most hilariously appalling bits of advertising copy ever. Many of these things are specific to the US, to early career academics, and above all to female academics, and the following ramblings are basically tangential to all that; but thinking about academics and clothes did bring to mind the time I was interviewed by a student newspaper as part of their regular fashion column. (more…)

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seattle-yale-new-york-september-2011-101seattle-yale-new-york-september-2011-102

There are two carved reliefs above the entrances to the Yale Law School intended to make a point about teaching. On the left (or above, depending on how your browser is showing it), above the students’ entrance, we have the students’ conception of the lecture: they’re engaged and eager to learn, but the professor is bored and would rather be doing something else, and his assistant is completely disengaged, reading pornography. On the right (below) we have the professors’ conception: brilliant, passionate lecturer with students fast asleep. The dominant contemporary image of the lecture is the worst of both worlds, with disengagement on both sides – let alone when we’re talking about scores of students rather than half a dozen. That is, the negative perceptions and expectations on either side – and, let’s be honest, there are real negative experiences on both sides as well – are taken to define the nature of the whole exercise.
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This morning’s developments – Trump sacking the acting Attorney General Sally Yates for ‘betrayal’ – has brought to mind one of the more frustrating episodes of my teaching career.* Some years ago I was advising a mature student, a retired commercial lawyer, on his Masters thesis; lovely bloke, good knowledge of the material, interesting ideas, but we hit a complete impasse when it came to his style of argument. He would cite a passage from a source as if its meaning were obvious, or at best assert his understanding of it and move on; or he would make a statement, with a reference to a single modern source, and then treat the matter as settled. Our meetings increasingly became variants on the same basic conversation: “Don’t you think it might be more complex than that?” “No.” “What about these other interpretations and arguments?” “I don’t agree with them.” “Don’t you think you should set out your reasons for rejecting them?” “No, I don’t see that.” (more…)

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It’s the week before my first week of teaching in Exeter (a week earlier than I’m used to, creating an unfortunate clash with the Deutsche Historikertag in Hamburg, so it’s actually going to be my first half week of teaching…). Busy uploading module (not ‘unit’ or ‘course’; must remember that) information onto ELE, learning the relationship between seminars and study groups, revising the ILOs according to house style, checking availability of e-books, re-writing guidance on source analysis exercises, navigating SRS to send out messages, trying to grasp the workings of BART and RECAP, and wondering where I put my copy of the guide to local acronyms. I dunno, in my day you got a photocopied bibliography in the first lecture if you were lucky, none of this spoon-feeding and eDucation nonsense… (more…)

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There’s a very interesting article up on Eidolon* by Lisl Walsh called Giving It Up in the Classroom, about navigating questions of authority in teaching classics: the authority of existing interpretations and scholarly consensus that manifestly needs to be analysed and criticised (indeed, this is our core task in teaching students, even if they think our job is to convey a fixed body of essential information and then test them on their ability to regurgitate it), and the authority of the teacher. The crux of the problem that Walsh addresses is the relationship between the two: the risk that, in developing a critique of the former and emphasising the openness and ambiguity of historical and literary interpretation, the teacher undermines her own authority, with adverse consequences for student motivation and learning, and thereby for course evaluations, career prospects etc. (more…)

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