On Sciencewoman’s teaching experiences and pacing of lectures

Teaching is a new part of my life. After my disaster postdoc I’ve had to switch gears and realign my expectations a bit; currently my career consists of tech duty in a lab to maintain my research skills and maybe get some papers out, and also expanding my CV by teaching. To date I’ve taught a summer Intro Bio with lab at the community college, 2 sections of a basic biology course and human bio in the fall (also at the CC), and finally this semester something near my field- Biopsych at the local state uni. Like sciencewoman, my biggest problem has been pacing.

I thought that putting most of my slides on Blackboard would solve these issues, but apparently it didn’t. I suppose something like pod-casting the class could also work to help the slower note-takers. So could posting all of my notes (not just ~50%) on Blackboard, but I’d like to keep strong incentives for people to actually come to class.
One thing I’d like to do is teach them how to take better notes in less time than it takes to copy things word for word from the slides. I’ve thought about doing a lecture where I have the powerpoint up on the screen, and I’m also taking notes as I go along on the adjacent board. Has anyone tried this? Or have you found other effective ways to teach note-taking skills?

I’ve run into this scenario. The problem is that students always try to get you to “just post the lecture before class” because it would be “really helpful” for “taking notes”, and then for some reason once you start “being helpful” they stop “showing up”. I understand how having some sort of outline/format ahead of time is useful, though, so I’ve taken to making my entire powerpoint as image-based as possible. Literally, I’ll have 30 slides for a 2 hour lecture (I’m teaching one night a week, currently). The slides are almost entirely image-based. The students can print them out beforehand so they don’t have to spend too much time drawing the pics during lecture. Salient points, processes, and important vocabulary I will write or redraw on the board as I lecture. Usually there’s 2 or 3 points per slide to discuss, which I’ll cover while the students finish writing. I find this method keeps the pace relatively steady and keeps the students focused on the lecture instead of furiously scribbling every little detail in their notebooks. The students who write slower don’t feel as pressured to hurry, and the faster students don’t get bored waiting for the others to catch up.
Then, after the lecture, I’ll post my version of my powerpoint with the entirety of my talking points inserted as notes for each slide. Here’s the catch though– you gotta post the new powerpoint unreliably so the students don’t just show up and zone out for the lecture. Don’t always put it up the very next day. Sometimes wait a few days. Maybe a week. Keep it kinda random. I find that almost all students will still take their own notes in class, but also get the benefit of my more detailed presentation later on. They just won’t know when my notes are coming, and hence won’t rely on me.
That last part may sound like a dirty trick, but some of the keys to learning are 1. multiple exposures to the material over time and 2. seeing the material presented in multiple formats. This accomplishes both.

16 Responses

  1. I see you have taken note of the work of Dr Skinner.

  2. Random reinforcement? ha!!
    As a student, I was the geeky one who read the entire textbook the day after I purchased it and thus never took notes unless it was info not included in the text or expanded on what was in the text.
    Of course, that was in the olden days when a blackboard involved using chalk.

  3. I was TA for a prof who used powerpoint and printed out the Notes version (small versions of the slides with lines for notes next to each one) and handed them out *in class* so you had to show up to get them. I took a class later where a prof did the same thing and, as a student I found this really useful because I was able to pay full attention to what the prof was saying without having to furiously scribble everything down. I could just make shorter notes when there was something I wanted to emphasize to remember, etc.

  4. I recently had a class that posted all the notes beforehand, but we had a “clicker question” set up that required you to be present. Basically they’re little remotes, and the prof would ask (usually relatively easy) questions to make sure people were in class and paying attention.
    The technique of posting notes randomly… I would complain about you as a professor if I had to deal with that. I generally take very detailed notes anyway, but such a lack of “stability” would be very irritating. In a way it would seem like you were penalizing the ones that actually take notes and want to quickly compare what you think are the major points with what they wrote down.
    I do like skeletal notes, though. As you said, it stops the furious scribbling. (:

  5. If students feel like they need to be writing down a lot of shit during your lecture, then you are lecturing wrong.

  6. So research consistently shows that all these tricks aren’t what keeps students coming to class. It’s almost always how interesting it is. I post my full lectures before class and use the clickers mentioned above (which I really like). I don’t have much trouble with attendance. Then again psych might be easier in this aspect😉

  7. I really don’t quite understand why instructors are so concerned about attendance (I mean, this would make sense if it were K-12, but it’s non-compulsory right?).
    However, given that they are, I don’t see why notes are focused on as a tool for getting students to come to class. There are so many other tools for that- clickers are a new-fangled one, I suppose; group discussions; ultra-brief timed response papers which count for a very minimal grade individually but collectively are useful for incentivizing attendance (one to five minutes gives students just enough time to write out a question or something they are having trouble with, or give you feedback… all of which is to the good); pop-quizzes (ok, so students will moan and groan over those but designing them so they are easy points helps).

  8. At the CC or University level, you need to treat the students as adults. Students who consistently fail to attend classes will soon learn that this will lead to low or failing grades. Given the cost of higher education, this will not last long. Either the student will drop out (and hopefully gain some maturity and try again later) or change their ways. Yes, there may be some students who “game” the class and could get away with not attending a class but get passing grades, but there are other approaches to entice students to class.
    Not providing notes penalizes those students who are making a serious effort and they are the students you should be helping as much as possible. You need to provide the slides and important points before class and then the students can annotate as they like.
    I would also like to point out that notetaking can be a skill that is difficult for students with learning disabilities, and CC tend to attract these students. My learning disabled but bright son, who struggled and barely passed high school, is doing much much better at CC. One reason is he can concentrate on only 3 classes a semester. Another reason is he either takes online courses or carefully selects professors that provide all their notes. Although his notetaking ability is much better than it used to be, he is EXTREMELY slow, and finds it very difficult to transcribe new information while listening. My son is eligible to ask the CC to provide a notetaker, but the resources are limited and the demand is great.
    If you are intent on getting students to class, then I would suggest you set aside 5% of the total grade for class participation (the clickers are one such example of this and appear to be in use in large lecture formats where the professor has no chance of learning the student’s names). This is a significant enough percentage of the grade that students will pay attention to it. Since CC classes are usually small, you should be able to learn your student’s names. One method of making the lectures interesting (especially for introductory classes) and to invite class participation is to tie the information they are learning to something in the news or latest movies. (Does the science in the movie make sense? Where is the science believable and where is it unreasonable? What is the biology behind the latest hot issue everyone is talking about? How can I better evaluate what I hear/see in the media from a science point of view?) You don’t need to do this at every class, but often enough so that the students have a strong incentive to attend. Students don’t have to participate in all discussions to gain their 5% but some significant proportion.
    Hope this helps.

  9. Donna–
    I’m in a building so old that they haven’t replaced the chalkboards with whiteboards.
    Ashley–
    I haven’t gotten a hold of the clicker yet, but I do like that idea. At no time did I ever guarantee to the students that they would have access to my full notes. It is a courtesy on my part and the class understands to treat it as such. Most are grateful that I post the skeleton notes ahead of time, and that seems to keep them satisfied.
    Et al–
    Attendance has been at least 95% every class since I’ve started lecturing this way (although part of it may be that I’m at the Uni now). I include some small percentage of their grade as participation. My TA reports few, if any confused faces and I currently have only 1 or 2 students out of the 33 in the class that ever need me to slow down, and only a couple times a class at that.

  10. I really don’t quite understand why instructors are so concerned about attendance (I mean, this would make sense if it were K-12, but it’s non-compulsory right?).

    I have seriously never understood the purpose of mandatory classroom attendance in college or post-graduate school.
    If a student can master the material without attending class, then more power to her. And if students are allowed to “vote with their feet”, maybe shitty faculty will realize that their classes are worthless and figure out how to improve them. This ego shit where faculty are “insulted” if students don’t show up to class is a fucking joke. Sack the fuck up asshole and learn to teach better and maybe students will attend your classes.
    My most rewarding teaching has been in a context where attendance is not mandatory, yet a shit ton of students show up anyway.

  11. Hear hear. I’m really enjoying this semester precisely because everyone is showing up and taking part. I’ve never required attendance except for labs that can’t be made up, and I certainly don’t give points just for being there. Although, I do feel that a full class is helpful to the students who may be struggling, as when everyone is there they tend to be more engaged and engage each other during the small group breakout sessions.

  12. Thanks for weighing in Evil. All of these discussions have taught me a lot and I’m definitely thinking I need to cut down on the number of slides and the amount of text/slide and force myself to write on the blackboard more.

  13. You know what? Fuck ’em. Seriously. There has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere recently about students in college who really shouldn’t be there. I believe it was CPP who said to teach to the top 25% of your class, and the rest can sink or swim. If we hand out college degrees to everyone who can afford to pay tuition, it makes the degree itself inherently worthless.
    College isn’t hard. PowerPoint and Blackboard did not exist in college classrooms 10+ years ago. Students managed. Screw this new generation of whining, entitled, overprivileged jack-offs who think that a bachelor’s degree is something you buy instead of earn.
    Do I sound bitter? My bad.

  14. Unpredictable postings were the norm in my community college A&P class, and the idea that it was a strategy never occurred to us students. But, damn, of course it was. And briefly – because I could talk about this for a while – I’m in favor of chalk (or markers) and opposed to clickers in most situations.

  15. Becca wrote:

    I really don’t quite understand why instructors are so concerned about attendance(.)

    Because I see a strong correlation between students showing up and their success in the class. I would hope that conscientious instructors want to encourage behaviours that lead to student success.

  16. But correlation is not causation – just because the better students show up – doesn’t mean the lectures have caused improvement

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