In the middle of marking final examination papers as my mind drifted away from the Cristeros rebellion in 1920s Mexico, a thought occurred to me.
I began watching a series of Harvard lectures on the Hebrew Bible. The prof gave his introductory, ‘what this course is about and what it is not about along with the usual business on textbooks, etc.’ in an engaging fashion including answering questions from the class (invisible except for voices off camera).
This got me thinking about my own period of time teaching face to face in a classroom and even in a seminar setting, but principally in a classroom lecture format. Secondly, a student sent me a comment that he had liked my online course because occasionally my ‘dry and quirky’ sense of humour would show through – actually two or three students remarked on this.
Then I thought about the lectures I attended as an undergraduate student, and what it was about those classes that affected me. Usually it was the personal characteristics the professor brought to the classroom as much as it was the information. Information can be had in a classroom course from the textbook, and online in text or image. But bringing that information to life is a factor and function of the personality (or lack thereof, alas!) of the instructor.
So, what to do?
Well something I had planned to do this semester, but massive class size and the new necessity in the university world of …. ummmm… sucking up to your TAs in order to keep your job (Teaching Assistants are more important than part time instructors because we part timers are costs to the university and the department, while TAs are graduate students and bring in grants from the government and tuition and are thus profit centres). This plus home problems of a permanent sort scuttled my intentions. I did several videos, but not as I envisioned them.
Here is what I will do in the new term while teaching one course. It is one course at a university that does not provide Teaching Assistants and which has 95% of its faculty on the part time roster. This removes the two disadvantages I noted above. I will have at least a weekly video where I introduce and go over the main points in the material for that unit. I will go further and have a short lecture/video for each sub-heading. I will also invite questions – not sure what technical format to use here as I would have to set it up on my own. I will scout around the net and see if I can find a chat room type thingie …. free I hope as in January my income is reduced by a full 50%.