words to grow on for a starting university teacher?
February 8, 2012 11:35 AM   Subscribe

My first visiting lecturer job starts next week. I know the department and the class will be small. what should I expect and what should I try not to do?
posted by parmanparman to Education (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So many questions:

1. What subject are you teaching?
2. Will this primarily be a lecture or discussion class (or both)?
3. What is the culture of the university like? Does everyone lecture? Does no one lecture?
4. What are the students expecting?

General advice is to be totally prepared. I like to write out a big text file with the main bullet points that I want to cover first. Then, as I'm thinking about what I want to say in detail, I make a point to note all of these things down under the appropriate bullet point. It turns out that, most times, I actually don't refer back to this piece of paper much. I either just remember all the points I want to cover or, more often, discussion in the class takes the topic in a more interesting direction than I had originally planned.

But, really. More details will lead to better answers.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:11 PM on February 8, 2012

I am teaching cultural policy. this is England so more lecture based but it would be cool to be different. students are expecting an Englishman but will get an American.
posted by parmanparman at 12:15 PM on February 8, 2012

Just generically, be prepared, be enthusiastic, friendly, smile lots, tell your students a little bit about you and your research at the start of the first lesson, just so they know where you're coming from and why an American is standing in front of them rather than an Englishman (just going by your point at the end).

If the class is really small (say, 10 or less), be prepared to do more seminar approach to your lessons rather how you would do a more lecture-based approach. You could talk for 10/15 mins or so and then give them a discussion point to focus on for a bit, then tie up the threads, rinse and repeat. Alternatively, give them a lecture then a break then dive into a seminar. It totally depends on how long you've got with them, what level they're at, how comfortable they are working independently. You'll be able to figure this out as you go along.

In terms of colleagues, introduce yourself to people. Hopefully people will introduce themselves to you first, especially if your head of department is on the ball and has told everyone you'll be arriving.

Find out where the photo-copier is (and if you need a separate log-in number for it), if you'll have a room to meet students (and where it is), how to access e-mail (and where the computers are). These last few points a moot if you've been given a room though.
posted by Scottie_Bob at 12:43 PM on February 8, 2012

Having lectured in Ireland, I will say that you will be a bit exotic to the students, not just because of your accent, but also because of your approach. The NA way of doing things at University is quite different from that in the UK and Ireland, and it will be a refreshing treat for the students.

If I had any suggestions for you, it would be to make a friend on the faculty that you can check cultural and institutional assumptions with, outside of formal interactions with faculty and students. Those very differences between NA and UK Universities that will be to your advantage in the classroom might run you into trouble if you don't suss out some of the assumed knowledge beforehand. For example, the grading curve and acceptable top grades were radically different in Ireland than what I had been used to. Having a friend on the faculty whom you can pull aside and check your cultural assumptions with will be extremely useful and handy, and will prevent foot-in-mouth-edness.

Have fun, and good luck! I'm jealous!
posted by LN at 1:07 PM on February 8, 2012

Have you had much teaching experience before, either in the US or in the UK? Do you know how many courses you'll be expected to teach, and what responsibilities you'll have (like, being in charge of the whole course and doing all the marking as well vs. giving a couple of lectures on your particular subject)?

Very general lecturing advice:
- don't cram too much into PowerPoint slides
- as much as you can, read from notes and bullet-points rather than a whole script
- familiarise yourself with the room beforehand, esp. how the AV stuff works
- for some reason students don't realise you can actually see them, so don't take any dead-eyed stares/epic fidgeting/sleeping personally
- I like to give the students a heads-up at the start of the lecture by summarising what I'll be covering, but not everyone does this and YMMV
- don't expect students to ask any questions or make any comments during a lecture, although you can break for questions if it's a small class and you have time

Very general seminar advice:
- the more you can get students actively involved, the better; don't treat it like a lecture and talk at them for the whole hour
- be willing to put them into small groups for 5-10 minutes to work on a specific task; some students loathe groupwork (I did) but others thrive on it, and you can also put the talkier students together and the quieter students together, so you don't end up with 2 or 3 people dominating the discussion while the shyer people say nothing all class
- anyone who tells you "I started the reading, but I didn't finish it" didn't start the reading
- even though everyone grumbles about them, students are generally pretty great

But like Betelgeuse said, the more detail the better in terms of useful answers!
posted by Catseye at 1:37 PM on February 8, 2012

I don't know how applicable this is in the UK, but one thing that is absolutely important when teaching in the US is to have a clear explanation of what work and tests (if any) the students will be responsible for and how grades will be determined, and to go over it in the first class.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:00 PM on February 8, 2012

I am teaching how to write a dissertation
posted by parmanparman at 2:04 PM on February 8, 2012

Make sure that the teaching material is available to them before the lecture, preferably at least one week prior to delivery to the class. You should also make available:

• The module description
• Details of the location of groups for any groupwork
• Details of any field trips
• When appropriate the details and submission dates of assignments should be added.

Check whether any of the students have specific Individual Learning Plans and address these needs as a part of your planning. You may contact students directly where they have submitted plans in order to find the best solution to meet their learning needs. Bear in mind you probably have a duty to find alternative methods for helping students to meet their earning goals where it is not unreasonable to do so.

Have any presentation backed up and ready to use, even if the university has system for access from the lecture space.

Make sure you have a marker, just in case.

Are you running a whole module? if so then you should start by telling the students about the goals of the module, how many credits its worth, what the mode of assessment will be (essay, exam etc) and the breakdown of marks. Reiterate the times and locations of lectures and labs and the dates of any planned field trips.Tell then when they will get any assignments, when they will get them back, that you will be running revision sessions at the end, with dates/week of delivery of possible. Tell them that you are happy to take questions throughout lectures.

When you give them the assignment take time out to properly brief them on what you expect, word limits, what you are looking to see in answers., deadlines, etc.

Students value their time and lecturers should value their time too. Notice of any cancellation or postponement of lectures or labs should be given as early as possible. if you have to cancel give as much notice as possible and tell them when the likely time the lecture will be rescheduled asap.

In the UK system there are moves to try to improve the quality of feedback since this a key area where most universities are criticised in the national student survey. I would recommend you come up with a feedback sheet which breaks down key areas mentioned in the learning outcomes in the module description and feeds back on them individually. This might only need to be a page with 5-8 boxes, when providing feedback put 1 or 2 sentences/phrases in each box. This will significantly improve the student feedback on your module.

If you uncover any plagiarism then talk to a full time member of staff - do not attempt to tackle it yourself.
posted by biffa at 2:05 PM on February 8, 2012

I would suggest that you try not to use power point much. It is rarely used well in the classroom, and frequently used poorly.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:06 PM on February 8, 2012

One thing to say is that, if they are very used to lecture-only, be prepared for some uncomfortable silences if you're wanting them to participate in more of a seminar-style. If you wait them out, you can get into some great conversations.

Back when I was teaching a bunch of Tibetan monks and nuns astrophysics (long story), the thing that was the most culture-shocky had to do with my teaching style vs. their learning style. I teach in very much the "small liberal arts" style of interactive learning. They were totally used to having their information "delivered" to them and maybe getting a chance to ask questions for the last 2-3 minutes of class. By the end of ~5 classes, I realized that I really wasn't getting them to talk as much as I wanted them to. In the next class meeting, I purposely prepared less than the full hour's worth of material and then told them that I had done this. The implication was that, if they didn't ask questions or start a discussion, we were going to sit there in silence for the last bit of the class (perhaps not a particularly effective threat to monks/nuns now that I think back on it). Anyway, that class led to one of the best discussions we had the entire class, both because they understood better what my expectations were, but also because I had explicitly set aside time for discussion.
posted by Betelgeuse at 2:07 PM on February 8, 2012

Its always good when you are planning lectures to put some questions in (you can leave a blank in the powerpoint if you think they will read ahead), with the aim of drawing students to interact with you. Also, when you ask them a question the rule of thumb is, leave twice as long as you think you need to leave to get an answer. Ie wait, then when you get to the part where the silence is uncomfortable, reset and wait that amount of time again.

Your first time out you will have missed things out of your presentation, will forget to make points you meant to make, will quite possibly lose the thread of your thoughts and will stumble in places. This is normal, don't let it get you convinved you will always be rubbish at lecturing.
posted by biffa at 2:31 PM on February 8, 2012

How will your students be evaluated, what will their marks be based on? Do you get to decide or is it set?
Are you teaching a class which is taught every year with a standard curriculum?
Will you be teaching graduate students? (If it's "how to write a dissertation in cultural policy", sounds like grad students.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:31 PM on February 8, 2012

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