How do you get to be their favourite teacher?
October 6, 2005 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Calling all academics: What advice can you offer a first-time university lecturer in terms of preparation, presentation, and holding student interest?

I'm starting as a part-time lecturer teaching a class to final year undergraduates next year. I'm a professional, and the class is directly within my area of expertise. That said, I've never lectured before, and I'm wondering what people have found works when you're first starting out (and don't have years worth of prepared lectures, handouts and experience!). Is it worth the effort to create powerpoint presentations (shudder), or is it easier to hold attention with a few key statements written on the whiteboard? Do you favour full lecture notes, or simple handouts with lists of key points, or do you give them nothing and let them fend for themselves? Socractic method? Assigned seating? Bueller?
I realise every class and every lecturer is different, but I'd be interested in MeFite views.
posted by szechuan to Education (37 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Since it sounds like they're not freshman, you should be in a better situation as far as being able to hold their interest.. but on the other hand they might be able to smell fear more easily.

Anecdotes are good. Try to work the lesson around a story and use a lot of examples. Group assignments (where they work together in small groups) can help break the ice in the first couple class meetings.

As far as what you go use for notes- whatever is easiest for you to keep it fresh. If you read out of the book, they'll probably stop going to class. Handouts aren't bad if they are just detailed enough that they still have to listen to you.

I think one of the most important things is just letting them know up front what you expect of them. Can they sleep in class? Do they need to read for every class? Give them an expectation, maybe even a little harsher than you're going to dish out in the end, and deliver... that way at the end of the semester they can't complain if they didn't fulfill their end of the deal, because you warned them up front.

Most important.. have fun.
posted by starman at 4:22 PM on October 6, 2005

What will you be teaching?
posted by LarryC at 4:30 PM on October 6, 2005

A lot depends on the subject.

Is it worth the effort to create powerpoint presentations

Yes, even if you don't use them. That (or PDF slides) are a decent way of outlining as you go.

or is it easier to hold attention with a few key statements written on the whiteboard?

For an upper-division course this should be fine. Or combine them with some very general slides mixed with a few more specific ones as needed.

Do you favour full lecture notes, or simple handouts with lists of key points, or do you give them nothing and let them fend for themselves?

Nothing, unless it's a day with serious information overload. Then a handout with enough to serve as a base for note-taking.

Socractic method?

Interaction is good. Give it a shot, but don't be too surprised or disheartened if the students don't give a damn.

Assigned seating?

I don't assign seats or take attendance, on the grounds that they're adults and can go where they want when they want. Others differ.


20-year-olds today might well not get that. Seriously.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:47 PM on October 6, 2005

i passed on the academic life, but as a graduate level student i would offer this advice:

1) do not do powerpoint presentations. i have had one experience where they were worth while, and only because the professor used them for the most key points and didn't rely on them to move the class forward. 99% of the time they are, in all honesty, boring. if you must use them, do not: ever ever ever read directly from them for more than a few sentences (and for the love of god, not for the entirety of the class), use crappy clip art/sounds, or have so many of them that it's hard to keep up.

2) interject personal experience. this does not mean digressing on a ten minute tangent, but offering an event that makes the material applicable "in the real world" and that is definitely a good thing.

3) if the class is longer than an hour, consider taking a five to ten minute break otherwise you risk people burning out.

4) in regards to handouts, i had a professor who would hand out a one page summary of key points/concepts at the end of class. i found this to be fair as it kept me paying attention during class, and i could confirm that i was on point in what i was thinking. handing it out at the begining risks people tuning out.
posted by whatitis at 4:52 PM on October 6, 2005

Your students will love you if you cover the material efficiently and let them out EARLY. It's like a gift from the teacher. They'll love you. Nothing's worse than sitting in a class with a prof who is rehashing things he's already explained just to fill time.
posted by kdern at 5:26 PM on October 6, 2005

a one page summary of key points/concepts ... handing it out at the begining risks people tuning out.

I like having the outline in front if me - it helps what the prof is saying fit in to the big picture. It would be really irritating to me if the prof waited till the end of class to give this.
posted by fourstar at 5:32 PM on October 6, 2005

If you want to use Powerpoint, stick to the main points, and don't just read your slides. I've got a few standard lectures where I've found myself writing the same thing on the board semester after semester, so I've just made PP slides of the notes to save myself the hassle and the students the headache of trying to read my handwriting. Although I personally detest Powerpoint and all it stands for, I've found that my students appreciate it, especially if my lecture covers some multi-step process (how to use Lexis-Nexis, for example).

Ask questions, if the subject matter permits, and get your student's input - it makes the class more interesting for them and for you - but always remember where you want to go with the class, and lead the discussion back to your point if need be. When I first started teaching, I had what I though were wonderful classes where the conversation flowed like made, but I realized later that my students hadn't really learned what I wanted them to.

I've gotten great evaluations when I try to identify the key concepts or goals of each class session, write it on the board at the beginning, and then return to it during the end of class. I think it gives the students a sense of progression and keeps the class from just petering out at the end.

The one bit of advice that got me over my fear? You know more than they do.
posted by bibliowench at 5:44 PM on October 6, 2005


I'm a 20 year old, and I get it.
posted by creeront at 5:54 PM on October 6, 2005

1. First, don't be upset with yourself if things don't go swimmingly the first time out; lecturing well often takes at least two or three years of practice.
2. Try not to read your lectures; use your notes as prompts instead.
3. Remember that lecturing is, in effect, a performance. You'll eventually develop an in-class persona. Ask yourself what held your attention when you were an undergraduate.
4. Be clear and concise. Initially, you may want to get everything in, but try to resist that impulse.
5. Students appreciate energy and enthusiasm. Believe it or not, moving around while you lecture will help keep them awake, so don't fix yourself behind the podium.
6. When you ask questions, be sure to wait for answers. You may need to rephrase the question (several times...), but don't answer it yourself.
7. Each class has its own chemistry. Even in a traditional lecture course, the classroom experience develops as a collaboration between the students and the instructor. All of us have had to spent semesters teaching to what feels like a brick wall--even though the same material may have gone down gangbusters just a couple of months ago.
8. If you're not good at telling jokes, then don't tell them. I'm pretty good at unexpected wry asides, but I stay away from things with a punchline.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:55 PM on October 6, 2005

bibliowench speaketh the truth. Other things: humour can be good, but don't try to be laugh out loud funny all the time. Also, I also abhor PowerPoint. It is just distracting-- students will spend more time trying to copy down what is up there than they will listening to you.

I've also found that personal anecdotes help. Mind you, I teach first year writing, so things might be different depending on your topic, but I find if I can say things like "When I first did this, I made this mistake, but I learned how to avoid it by doing this" the students usually pay attention.

Also: re Bueller. I did that just last week, and it went over their heads. I felt so old, and I am only 24.
posted by synecdoche at 5:56 PM on October 6, 2005

Some of the best professors I had were able to take personal stories and make them really applicable to the subject at hand. I don't know how they accomplished this at all, but I still remember their little tidbits.

Powerpoints can be hit or miss. It's not really the powerpoint itself, it's how you use it. Visuals are good. Word for word transcriptions of your lecture are not.
posted by jetskiaccidents at 6:31 PM on October 6, 2005

id say reflect on your college years and what you and your friends found effective and not so effective.
posted by at 6:49 PM on October 6, 2005

Go with your strengths. In your case you have real world experience, try to bring that in when you have an interesting anecdote. (I've noticed that students like bizarre examples, fortunately I'm good at coming up with bizarre stuff.)

I would avoid powerpoint/slides. They can turn into a crutch if you aren't careful. Without them, however, you have to really be on the ball with information and delivery. This isn't too difficult but it will take some practice.
I don't give out handouts because I want the students focused on my actions at all times. However, I use the board extensively.

I do take attendance, and I have a draconian attendance policy: After two absences they receive a half-grade reduction off the final grade, and another half-grade for every two after that. If a student is more than one minute late they are counted as absent, though I let them stay in class. (I've had two professors who would lock the door and not let you in even if you were just 15 seconds late.) While the students are adults, I want them to succeed. To me, attendance is a requirement for success and this kind of attendance policy does a good job of ensuring attendance. Of course, I make allowances for honest-to-goodness emergencies and such.

Give them two copies of the class syllabus and policy guidelines. Make them sign one of them and give it back to you. This will keep them from attempting to plead ignorance when they inevitably due something wrong.

Finally, plan to fill only about 80% of your lecture time actually lecturing. You will need time to handle questions and deal with unforeseen asides and distractions.

Oh, I almost forgot. Figure out what your policy is on cell-phones ringing in class. Make it crystal clear for them on the first day. I can't stand them. My policy is to make anyone whose phone goes off leave the lecture; then, they are not allowed to return until they have come to see me during my office hours. Any absences caused by this policy are not exempted from the general absence policy above.

No my students do not, as a rule, hate me. In fact, I've had a few come to me for advice on graduate school and for written reccomendations.
posted by oddman at 7:29 PM on October 6, 2005

" regards to handouts, i had a professor who would hand out a one page summary of key points/concepts at the end of class."
That's an out for lazy students. It's not too much to expect students to keep their own notes. If they don't know how, they don't belong in a university.

I agree with oddman (above) on his well-made points. Especially the strict attendance policy. Thomas Wise also had some very good things to offer.

My concern with first-year lecturers is the pressure from students to succumb to their expected whims (such as the suggestion above to let them out early). Too many first-year profs are so determined to be "liked" that they go right along with the dumbing down of quality education. One day, most students will look back and remember those teachers, at whatever level, who were offering content and quality truly worth paying for.

Demand excellence!

posted by Independent Scholarship at 8:18 PM on October 6, 2005

While I disagree with oddman, and would avoid courses with him, I can see why reasonable profs might do that for a large lecture. I have an upper-year seminar with a teacher who, when he teaches second-year lectures, has been known to kick out late-comers and tell them to come back at the break.

For our class however he's much more laid back. Missing that crucial explication of a key Heidegger passage at the beginning of class is punishment enough.
posted by maledictory at 8:26 PM on October 6, 2005

To be a good lecturer, care what your students are getting out of it. This was honestly my first response on seeing the question, because it didn't sound like you were asking for responses from the people who would be taking your class.

From the point of view of a student, I wanted to repeat my favorite points above:
  • interject real world experience. Someone else said this worked in writing, my favorites are from engineering professors. I still remember them! One of the professors was a consultant/professional expert on engineering failures in metal structures. Another cost Ford several million dollars with one mistake he made, and saved them several more with another discovery. Another (actually a policy prof) had a family member put under one of the secret patent dealios (you can't sell this, we won't pay you for it, you can't talk about your invention or the terms of this patent, I can't come up with what they're called), and used it as a technology policy example. These can make otherwise dry topics make tangible sense and illustrate why we should care.
  • Don't read your slides, furthelovagod. Lecture notes in some form are super helpful though: miss a class? want to see the big picture? There you are. That being said, powerpoint handouts aren't necessary or even helpful sometimes, outlines can be good.
  • Reading slides is bad in part because it keeps your eyes off the audience and can remove all enthusiasm and tone from your voice. So can other things. That said, keeps your eyes on the audience and enthusiasm in your voice.
  • Professors who actively take attendance aren't favorites. That said, you'll still come to know who is there and who is prepared, and who is not, which is why class participation is a fair component to any grade where you have an opportunity to interact.
  • Please do use slides if your handwriting is difficult to read, or you are teaching something where writing/drawing can really slow you down or keep you from the class (e.g. organic chem, or circuits). If you do use slides for such complex things that people will want to copy, keep in mind that people want to copy them, and don't speed through.
  • Interaction is excellent. Encourage questions, ask them, and answer them.

    Being a favorite doesn't end in the classroom though. My absolute favorite professors
  • Respond to email within a reasonable time.
  • Say they need to look something up if they don't know it, instead of bullshitting
  • Do go look up whatever they said they would, and come back with it
  • Encourage people who are interested in your field. These students will have more questions and may take more time, but it means the world when a prof. can recommend good texts, contacts in industry/academics, further classes, career options, what have you.

    Also, many universities have programs set up to help lecturers, TAs, and other teaching staff improve their skills through workshops and evaluations. You might look into what your university offers in this range, here's an example where I am.

    Good luck!

  • posted by whatzit at 8:35 PM on October 6, 2005

    Be interesting. My favorite lecturers have without fail been the ones who talked and acted just like they were chatting with a friend or at a party. This is not to say ignore the general material, but be personable and conversational the same way you would with anyone else. Tangents and anecdotes are welcome. Powerpoint slides and dry facts are not. Engage students, and work from sparse notes. I'm sure this will be hard at first, but I hate (hate, hate) a teacher who reads from a sheet of paper. The professors that have had the most profound effect on me have been the ones not scared to go a bit afield — sure, I'm in class for the subject material, but I'm in school for knowledge. Anything goes.

    No handouts unless your students really have trouble focusing. A detailed syllabus is awesome though — try to estimate what you'll be discussing and when (and there's no harm straying from the syllabus a bit). Don't assign seats unless they are in high school (or act like high school students).

    (You didn't really ask this, but I've got to respodn to the last post: Don't be a jerk about tardiness (no offense, oddman). Be strict about attendance, sure. But as long as a student isn't habitually or distractingly late, let it slide. Stuff happens. Class isn't life, and there may be times you will be late, too. Marking me absent for one-minute late? Please. What if my watch is set differently than yours? Cell phones by a similar policy — the first time someone's cell phone rings they will probably be so mortified that it won't happen again. [If your students are apathetic assholes, of course, all bets are off.])

    Disclaimer: I'm a student, not a teacher.

    Good luck.
    posted by rafter at 8:37 PM on October 6, 2005

    Random thoughts:

    With Powerpoint, some people (and topics) are well suited for the 'point while others are not. I've had good luck with incorporating audio and video clips from TV shows, movies, etc. into Powerpoint -- seems to work better in intro classes (particularly large ones that make a student-instructor dialogue more difficult).

    In larger lecture classes, I've found that providing a skeleton lecture outline on the web before the class allows students to take notes in a structured way.

    thomas j wise is right, teaching really is performance. It is important to think about what the audience experience is like. Nothing is worse than a boring class with an instructor reading from powerpoint slides or notes.

    When I teach freshmen, I play the dorky but funny young guy -- lots of pop culture references, etc. When I teach grad students I take a more collegial approach.

    Anecdotes are a very powerful tool -- as long as you reinforce the main point at the end.

    The best advice I ever received about teaching was that it is okay to have long pauses after asking a question of the class. If nobody has answered a question, give it a few extra seconds before rewording the question (or moving on).

    Getting to know student names is a big plus. I've taken polaroid or digital pictures of students holding signs with their names on them on the first day of class, and used them as study aids.

    It all comes down to finding something that you are comfortable with. Different people are more effective using different techniques, and the same person may have to use different techniques in different circumstances.

    Also, RELAX. A nervous instructor is distracting. Try and enjoy yourself.
    posted by i love cheese at 8:43 PM on October 6, 2005

    Also, be very explicit about attendance, grading, plagiarism, exam make up, and related policies in the syllabus. It will save you a ton of grief later when you can point to the syllabus and diffuse a whiny student.
    posted by i love cheese at 8:45 PM on October 6, 2005

    Quoth i love cheese:
    Also, be very explicit about attendance, grading, plagiarism, exam make up, and related policies in the syllabus. It will save you a ton of grief later when you can point to the syllabus and diffuse a whiny student.

    Detail it in writing, at the beginning of the term, and put maybe 10-15 minutes of the first class into such administrivia so no one can say they didn't know.
    posted by whatzit at 8:56 PM on October 6, 2005

    "something where writing/drawing can really slow you down or keep you from the class (e.g. organic chem, or circuits)"

    I disagree. You should be SLOW.

    May good points here folks. I got killed on my evals last year when I did powerpoint lectures: you go too quickly and kids don't absorb it. There is passivity if you give handouts or mania if they need to get the stuff down as quick as you can present it..

    You'd be surprised how much students like stuff written: (derivations, organic chem mechanisms) - if you can write it, then you're going at a speed where they can write it! Maitland-Jones ( a great prof at princeton) has a term for this - learning with a pencil

    Powerpoints these days serves a modified purpose. If I have images that CANNOT be reproduced on a whiteboard (e.g. 3d graphs, v complex molecules, amusing anecdotal quote, pictures linking the simpsons to thermodynamics [really]) then I use these, but I intersperse powerpoint with written whiteboard text. I send the immediately powerpoints after the lecture as .pdfs to the class. This way they can see what they saw in lecture and correlate their notes without
    coming to class thinking they'll know the material.

    If you're used to writing powerpoint lectures, write a powerpoint lecture from scratch, and then print out the slides. ruthlessly delete all the slides that just have text or formulae or simple diagrams on them. That's my experience this semester, and things are going better.

    Remember: you gotta entertain somehow. If someone wanted dry download of facts into their brain, they'd read a textbook. You have to present stuff from a new perspective.

    Hard work, no?

    [I need to work on actually doing worked examples in class more - any suggestions?]

    Good luck!
    posted by lalochezia at 9:25 PM on October 6, 2005

    lalochezia, maybe it depends on the prof... I've had some that can't talk and draw at the same time without teaching the chalkboard or becoming completely incomprehensible, and then moving on while everyone is still asking each other"what'd he say??".

    At the same time, the pacing is super important, and you're right, it is easy to get going too fast if it's pre-written. Might be something worth rehearsing to see what fits your style/class.
    posted by whatzit at 9:35 PM on October 6, 2005

    Oh, one more thing. Have the students turn in an assignment about the day's topic at the beginning of class (make it short and relatively easy, you just want to ensure that they've looked at the material). When the students have, at least, a prima facie familiarity with the material that you'll be lecturing on, interaction becomes much, much easier. It also gives them a chance to develop good questions for you.

    (If I may continue Rafter's slight derail. I disagree that "class is not life." When you register for a course you are making a commitment to attend and participate, the professor is not there at your convenience. If your watch is set differently, then simply reset it (or keep the difference in mind) or do what I did with my strict professors: Make sure you get your butt to class 10-15 minutes early. It's amazing how you can be on time when you face serious consequences for being late.)
    posted by oddman at 10:38 PM on October 6, 2005

    It helps to modulate your voice. The same voice tone and volume can fade in the background.

    Also, try to remind the students why they're doing what they're doing, especially if they're seniors. If it's an engineering course, for example, bring in a video or articles about new research relating to electronics.
    posted by spiderskull at 11:21 PM on October 6, 2005

    Tons of good advice above. My two bits would be to amplify what was said upthread about a lecture being a performance. Any kind of public speaking is, if it's to be effective.

    It needn't be scenery chewing, or FUNNY HAHA or anything, and should be appropriate for the context. Think a lot about your audience, and what they want. This goes as much for things like business presentations as it does for lectures.

    This may sound silly, but studying the ways that stand-up comedians or monologuists like Eric Bogosian use their voices and bodies has helped me to hone my lecturing skills.

    If you do things that are in any way outre, I find that people appreciate if you explain why you do them that way. Treating people like adults is the best policy. Beginning a semester by explaining in detail what you will do, how you will teach, and why you have decided to do it that way is something I always do, as well.
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:52 PM on October 6, 2005

    Pay attention to what seems to work and do more of that. If you're getting good questions and interesting comments after taking a particular approach, it probably means it's successful.

    Hand-in-hand with this goes the practice of asking, as much as you can, if what you've said/shown makes sense. Sometimes students won't take the initiative to ask a question if they think they're interrupting, but if you give them lots of chances to respond to a check for understanding, you'll find out if you're being clear.

    And related in turn to this last item is one final piece of advice: be ready to respond when you hear a "No, I don't understand." Don't just brush that off and move on quickly to the next topic.

    E-mail me if you want. I'll be happy to chat more with you.
    posted by yellowcandy at 12:31 AM on October 7, 2005

    I'm a new lecturer myself.

    Start by planning everything you want to include in the course. Chop and change it to come to conclusions as to what goes in and what doesn't.

    Assess what you want the students to get out of the course, not just in terms of knowledge but also in terms of personal skills and core academic skills. For example, presentation skills, team working skills, nunchuck skills. This may require talking to whoever is in charge of the students learning overall.

    In my first year as a lecturer I used powerpoints, largely for key points. Students *hate* lecturers reading stuff off the screen and you will likely get shitty feedback if you do this. The other (ppt) option is to give them loads of info on the screen and talk about something else, this is a bad idea for obvious overloading reasons. What makes ppt key ideas handy is that they cut down preparation time. You will find the first time you write a course that it can be pretty time consuming, ppt leavens this somewhat.

    I plan to rethink a lot of the course I taught last semester to vary my approach and include different teaching modes. This is something you might want to bear in mind doing yourself if you teach the course year-on-year. I am considering increasing the use of handouts for particular parts of the course and introducing the use of the information in the handouts to make the students demonstrate their understanding of the topic and its key concepts. The handouts also offer you a way to include more information and can be useful to point too to stop lectures being side tracked by (some) student questions. (yellowcandy is right that you want them to be asking questions generally but students can put you off track either on purpose or honestly but still time-wastingly at times. You'll need to pick and choose which questions take you too far off course and bring things back round as necessary.)

    If you have the time though there is no need to have lectures/sessions follow the same mode every week. There are plenty of ways to break it up, a few examples off the top of my head.

    Have the students read key texts then discuss them amongst themselves while you provide some direction to the discussion.

    Have the students watch a recorded TV programme then discuss the key points.

    Bring in a guest lecturer occasionally.

    Take the students out on field trips if possible.

    Set projects that require lab time or data assessment (if appropriate to your field)

    Where two key aspects of the field are in opposition set a debate between groups.

    Important: They will ask you questions you don't know the answer to. Don't bullshit them, consider making an educated guess but you will soon learn to sense if a question is going in a direction that may lead outside your area of expertise. If you don't know an answer say so, ('Good question, I'm not sure') and maybe offer to get back to them in the next lecture with an answer or maybe set them to find out themselves and get back to the class (risky as it could discourage questions, which you don't want).
    posted by biffa at 2:45 AM on October 7, 2005

    One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet: be smart about your examination of knowledge.

    If it's mandated that everyone be graded on a 100% final exam that can be tough, but short of that, start out with a formal examination - quiz, assignment, short paper, early in the course (week 3/4 of 13 is OK). Good for you: you learn how the students are doing right up front. Good for them: they learn something about your approach to examinations and marking. Knowing this can take some of the edge off, esp for good students.

    In addition, though it's debatable that 20 yr olds are truly adults, it is clear in the adult education literature that examinations are PART of the learning process, not just an assessment of learning that has already occurred. If you approach your grading mechanism with that in mind, you can go a long way to designing a scheme that both allows you to fairly assess learning AND contributes itself to the learning process.
    posted by mikel at 4:32 AM on October 7, 2005

    I mostly teach languages, modern Greek, Latin and occasionally Norwegian, in small groups (4-15 students), so not all of my approaches are the same as yours, but here are my experiences:

    First off, from a student's point of view powerpoint is evil, you become to focused on what it says (or that it is flashing or funnily pointed graph) and suddenly you've missed whatever the teacher was saying. So both as a student and a teacher I say Go whiteboard! When you write, bulletpoints, details, graphs, schematics on the board you do it real time and you can explain while doing it. It takes the students inside your head.

    Lecturers who read their lecture-notes verbatim are boring. I don't say that you shouldn't write your lecture fully, but if you do, practise it like you practise a speech, to make it flow naturally. Also, since I encourage questions and feedback a fully written lecture will be hopeless to use since it would not leave enough -or too much- room for feedback and questions.

    I think through my lessons and make notes of what I am going to talk about (with numbers, references etc), I also make some notes of useful examples, underlining my points, there's nothing so annoying as to be stuck for a word/example that proves just what I've been talking about the last ten minutes. Also I like having a few loose ends during my lectures as a starting point for discussions, questions and thinking in general. There are always some problems, strange new theories and discoveries swirling about or someone questioning old truths. By using them to present alternate views students are forced to think themselves, and I -both as teacher and student- found it more interesting and rewarding than a presentation of a notion of a set paradigm.

    Alternate between heavy lecturing and discussion and group work. I have found that concentration is flagging after 20 minutes of heavy lecturing, so then I usually make room for a bit of questioning (from me or them), or a block of working in groups or discussion, depending on what we are working on.

    I am in no way omniscient, which I tell my students, I will try to answer every question as good as I can and I will look it up for next class if I can't answer it there and then. Also, I admit my faults (if any).

    Some notes (since I love to lecture and tend to be long-winded),
    * I am always overprepared, but don't try to fit the last fifteen minutes into five, nobody will remember them. Skip it, take it next time, cut down on something else.
    * I always tell my students what to read for the next lecture, I will not spend time on telling them the basics when they can read them themselves, after all they are students and supposed to be intelligent. I always ask whether there are any questions on the reading though.
    * Leave room for them to finish their note-taking!

    There are some things that works well at all times, some things work only in some groups and some things that don't work at all. I have made my part of mistakes. Make a note of it, why and what went wrong, improve on it or do the opposite next time. The students will forget it much faster than you will. I also asked some of my seasoned colleagues to observe their lectures to pick up some points, and that was very helpful.

    The first lecture I held was scary in an bungee-jumping way, and I loved every second of it - and I still do. Afterwards a couple of my friends toweled me dry and served me hot tea to calm my nerves. I needed that.

    And finally and most importantly:
    Let your enthusiasm for the subject show! It is infectious. So what if it is nerdy? It will make people remember and love you. And hopefully make them love the subject as much as you do.
    posted by mummimamma at 5:03 AM on October 7, 2005

    Don't worry about repeating yourself. Or rather, do worry about it. Do it over and over. And over. In the next class, rather than repeating, remind. Recall. Reiterate. One way to do that is to say something important, then realize out loud "That's important, let's write it down", then say it again as you (and the now-primed class) write it down.

    Basically, as a new lecturer on something you're a professional in, you're way more likely to go too quickly than too slowly. Multiply by 10^6 if you use PowerPoint. Which is one of the many reasons not to use it.

    If there are any threads or trains of thought in your class that last longer than thirty seconds, do not use PowerPoint. If somebody blinks out for a moment, and then attempts to reorient themselves using clues left over on the board, they have a chance. If it's on the last slide, it's gone.

    PowerPoint is great if you want to prevent people from thinking about anything other than what's on the current slide. In particular, it's the ideal tool to sell people things they don't want. This is probably not your role.

    Logistical stuff: what the students will grade you on, more than anything else, is how secure they feel that they are indeed carrying out the requirements to do well in the class. If you throw them a curve -- test too different from homework in difficulty/material, shifting homework policy, lectures too different from book -- they'll become very uneasy.

    (If you realize you have to change your homework policy, though, do change it. Just make sure to announce it over and over. And over.)
    posted by Aknaton at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2005

    Treat the students as adults. Call them Mr. Jones and Ms. Smith, not Johnny and Susie, that's what their high school teachers called them. They're in the big leagues now.

    I really disagree with oddman's treatment of college students as children. While HE may think that "attendance is a requirement for success" it may or may not be for many students. And, although HE wants them to succeed, it is not his job to make them do so, it's theirs. If attendance is so important to success, then the natural consequence of not attending will be failure; what's the point of wasting time with taking roll, deducting points, etc.? If the students are failing, I don’t want them to care about disappointing me, it’s about not disappointing themselves.

    I once had a student come ask me questions during office hours. He was really struggling, and although I tried to help, it seemed futile to both of us. He told me that he didn't think I cared if he succeeded or not. To which I replied, "Actually, I don't. It will make no difference at all to me if you fail." I explained to him that I did care about my teaching, and if more than a handful of students weren't getting it, then *I* was failing, and that I would care about. But, if he isn't understanding the material? Not my problem! A couple of years later (after he changed majors), he paid me a visit and told me that although on that day he thought I was the biggest prick he ever met, he had come to appreciate my honesty. I was apparently the first person to tell him directly that the world didn't revolve around him, and it was an important lesson.

    I find that learning people's names, even in a large lecture class, is a good strategy. Call on them by name, ask them a question, and then shut up. Let the silence hang in the classroom. Someone will speak up, eventually. Just don't let it be you.

    I also don't spend the first lecture on the administrivia of the course. I post all the rules to the class website and tell them to read it. Do they? Of course not. But, in a few weeks when they want the password to the solution key, I can tell them it's buried in the syllabus that they are no doubt familiar with, right under the late homework policy.

    Biffa's advice about admitting you don't know something is crucial. I've had many, many students tell me that I'm their only professor who would immediately own up to not knowing something. I think what they really find astounding is that I can be completely self-assured about my mastery of the material, yet not know the answer to something; I think it's an important lesson for them that even smart people don't know everything, and there is no shame it not knowing everything, and that people won't think less of you for not knowing everything.

    You probably want to get a few years teaching under your belt before you try anything too radical, but radical things sometimes work. A couple I've tried with great success:

    - I teach an introductory sophomore level circuits class. It is dry, boring, and essential. Typically we teach X, where X is a large quantity, and they retain about X/5. A few years ago I decided to cut about half the stuff out and just cover X/2. My colleagues were appalled! "How can you graduate an electrical engineer that doesn't know Laplace transforms/mesh analysis/whatever? It's criminally irresponsible!" My response was that we were already graduating people ignorant of Laplace transform/mesh analysis/whatever; I was just going to cut out the step where they pretend to understand it for a few weeks. I found that by teaching X/2 they retain about 80%, so instead of understanding 20% of X, they can remember 40% of X.

    - Last year I stopped giving tests. I don't like to make them up or grade them, they don't like to study for them or take them, and they take up a lot of time. Many students just don't do well on them even though they are capable people. Too many people get panic attacks during tests. Instead, I just give difficult homeworks, and tell them to work together. They learn from each other. Just last week a colleague who teaches the upper level electronics course told me that the grades on his mid-term exam were spectacular, the highest they have ever been. These are students I had for two courses last year. Yes I'm taking complete credit for this.

    - Radical things don't always work. One year I didn't give any partial credit. Bad move!

    Email in profile if you want a private discussion.
    posted by Wet Spot at 8:39 AM on October 7, 2005

    I also echo the sentiment that PowerPoint in the classroom is evil.
    posted by Wet Spot at 8:40 AM on October 7, 2005

    See if your institution has some sort of evaluation system of teachers by students. My alma mater has something called the Critical Review, which summarizes questionnaires answered by students at the end of each semester. It would probably be helpful to see what other lecturers in your subject tend to do, and what the students like and dislike. I sometimes referred to the Critical Review when planning classes during graduate school.
    posted by nekton at 8:41 AM on October 7, 2005

    Treat the students as adults. Call them Mr. Jones and Ms. Smith, not Johnny and Susie, that's what their high school teachers called them. They're in the big leagues now.

    And if Johnny and Susie are their names, that's what they'll get called in a professional environment too (where I live anyway, do Americans call each other Ms/Mr at work?). Call them by their first names and let them call you by your first name - which is the opposite of what they would have done at school and is a far more significant/noticeable change.
    posted by biffa at 11:03 AM on October 7, 2005

    Well, as for the attendance policy, I wouldn't be as strict about lateness, but it REALLY depends on the school and where you're at. Since I've been in a graduate program at Wayne State, attendance is generally counted, but lateness is understood because it's perfectly possible to be sitting on the same interchange a few minutes from campus for 45 minutes for no discernable reason. Being on time guaranteed for many people would mean being an hour early 75% of the time.
    posted by dagnyscott at 11:41 AM on October 7, 2005

    I also disagree that attendance policies necessarily imply thinking of students as children. They do not. Rather, they indicate that the course has minimum requirements for success.
    posted by yellowcandy at 12:35 PM on October 7, 2005

    "I really disagree with oddman's treatment of college students as children. While HE may think that "attendance is a requirement for success" it may or may not be for many students."

    In the world I live in, employers certainly consider attendance a requirement for success. Part of the college experience is learning how the world works - not how radical academia would somehow like it to be. The fact is, in the real world, attendance is important and requiring it is a rather basic concept. If mom and dad are paying the bills, I would venture a guess they probably think it's pretty important as well. Then again, if the prof doesn't see attendance in his class as necessary - maybe he knows something the rest of us don't. A kind of warning, perhaps?

    posted by Independent Scholarship at 9:48 PM on October 7, 2005

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