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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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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Labour of Love

“But he doesn’t seem to know our names…” I remember reading this in a student feedback form years ago, from a unit being taught by a senior colleague. I actually thought it was pretty impressive, and a mark of the Bristol spirit, that such an eminent scholar would be teaching a beginners’ course for first years without a hint of complaint, rather than (as often seems to be the case elsewhere) insisting on limiting his exposure to students to advanced seminars where they could be expected to do most of the work themselves. I can also fully appreciate the difficulty, as one gets older, of learning names and retaining them; apologies to any of my students reading this, but my short-term memory is basically rubbish these days, and the effort of learning the names of all the second-year ancient historians for the unit in this half of the year has driven out roughly 60% of the names of the first-year ancient historians that I memorised back in the autumn. (The good news is that, according to our discussion in a class on digital history, today’s students don’t bother with blogs, so I may be okay). (more…)

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If you haven’t already seen it, head over immediately to Rebecca Schuman’s hilarious and perceptive piece on Slate, PowerPointless, subtitled “Digital slideshows are the scourge of higher education”. Then, if you are a teacher, spend five minutes contemplating those things you have done with PowerPoint that you ought not to have done, for there is no health in you. There are people working on a suitable scale of penances; using the ‘spin’ animation is obviously a sackable offence. Students and other non-academics can, for the moment, start smugly compiling a PowerPoint Bingo card for the next lecture they have to attend; if you have to do PowerPoints they’re probably rubbish as well, but that’s our fault for setting such a bad example. “Faculty who abuse Powerpoint create students who abuse Powerpoint”.

On the whole, I don’t think my practice comes off too badly in terms of the various sins that Schuman identifies; I do at least keep the animation to a minimum, don’t try to cram too many words in tiny font onto a single slide, and have never ever simply read out the words on the screen. On the contrary, I treat the slideshow rather like a jazz standard in small group improvisation (more…)

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