Making teaching transferable

Yesterday was my last teaching day of the semester. However, I found myself 40 miles away from my classroom at the relevant time, at a research event I’d organised in London. The availability of the speakers meant we’d had to go then, but my institution’s (not-unreasonable) insistence that no classes be cancelled meant that I had had to make use of our departmental buddy system.

In essence, this is just a rota of people who can cover for each other, in cases of illness or other commitments. We developed it a few years back after we had a spate of ill-health and the ad-hoc arrangements were getting a bit ropey. We don’t use it much, but it does cut-through a lot of the hassle of finding cover when we need it.

Any way, the main point of telling you this is that I had to get together materials for my colleague for class. That meant a dossier to hand out to students for a simulation (this one, since you ask).

However, I also had to sit down with him last week, just to run through the game and talk about what to expect and to discuss in feedback. In particular, we covered what happened if not everyone showed up. This mattered, because a) the students had deadlines yesterday too and we know that’s a killer for attendance, b) this game needs a certain minimum number of people, and c) we’d completed our big game last week, so some students might have felt that there was little to gain by attending.

In the event, it was good we had that chat, because only 2/3rds of the students rocked up, so my colleague had to put into action his fall-back adaptation.

Talking with him later, his feedback was positive and students seem to have got something out of it, but it has reminded me of the difficulty of creating resources that can be picked up and used by others.

This should have been relatively simple: my colleague’s observed my class before, the game was on a subject area he can talk about, he knows the students. But even then we covered a bunch of stuff in the prep that I haven’t included in the materials, even though the materials are ones that I developed explicitly to be shared.

This is something we’ve tussled with here at ALPS over the years, because it’s both a specific simulation game problem and a generic L&T one. It’s really only when you try something out that you fully appreciate the dimensions and the potential any teaching environment contains.

Indeed, I’d go further and say it’s only when someone else uses your stuff that you appreciate these things, because they’ll do something different. My colleague adapted what I gave him in interesting and creative ways and debriefing on some different aspects to me.

To be clear, that’s great because it means I’ve learnt something from it too, along with him and the students. In our post-class chat, we talked about how you could grow this game in various directions that I’d not really considered before (mainly because of the maths involved).

So two thoughts to consider as the festive break looms.

One is that there is great benefit in sharing our teaching practice, both for ourselves and for others.

The other is that it is hard to communicate what we want our teaching to achieve (and how) to other teachers, so we should take time to reflect on what others need to know. That’s a bigger project than we realise and one I’ll come back to in the new year.