For the next few weeks I’m covering for a colleague on sick leave. It’s a module/course I’ve taught before, so I’m comfortable with the material and the subject matter. What I’m less comfortable with is how to make a connection with the students.
In all our writing, we’re making the assumption that you know what’s coming, at least at the basic level that your line manager tells you at the start of the year or semester what you’ve got lined up to deliver: if they don’t, then your timetabling system must be even more messed up then everyone else’s.
But there’s always some element of uncertainty: illness is the obvious case. Students still need their content delivered, assessment still needs grading.
The problem is an obvious one: if you walk in when most of the module/course has been delivered, how can you know what’s been said and (more importantly, I think) how it’s been said?
In my case, I have the powerpoints from all the weeks and I know pretty well my colleague’s views on the big questions, but I still can’t really know about the fit of it all. Even with the support of the seminar leader – who very helpfully talked with me both before and after the first lecture – I’m still feeling my way around in the dark.
A large part of it is asking questions: did you cover this? are you comfortable with these sorts of ideas? can you see how this links to something you’ve done earlier? Even just some nodding or shaking of heads (which is what I got) gives a steer. Likewise, trying to be (even more) friendly and accessible.
If I were feeling more bold – and, to be clear, I’m not in that sort of mood these days – I might have asked someone to stand up and explain something they’d already learnt back to me, so I could gauge their level and the kind of language that they use. But as I say, I’m not that way inclined at this point.
There’s another thing I’m going to try, though.
I’m experimenting with podcasts for a general audience, on the same subject matter as this class. It’s very early days, but essentially I want to produce a series of 5 minute ‘casts that are framed by simple questions that people ask of it all.
My idea is simply to encourage some interaction with the students by asking them what questions they would like answered: they might be a bit too technical for what I’m planning, but it would stimulate my thinking, as well as giving me more of an ‘in’ into how they understand (or don’t understand, more pertinently) the topic.
Whether that works, I’ll have to report back, but if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear/read them.
* – old joke, watch the clip.