28 February 2012

The professor project, part one: the lectures

This week marks the (almost) halfway point of this year’s first great adventure.

And I’m not going to lie: it’s been kicking my butt. I love it, I really do, but it’s far more time-consuming than I expected and I expected it to be very time-consuming. But moreover, it’s very energy-consuming, and that’s most evident by telling you about my feelings for this here blog lately. Recently, writing blog posts has been super hard – not time-wise, but creativity-wise. It was actually easier to blog while writing my dissertation, because this was the creative outlet while I was spending the rest of my time compiling data and shrieking at whatever software was crashing at the moment. But I don’t need a creativity outlet nowadays, because I have been awfully busy doing a lot of creating.

When the blog disenchantment came to a head last week, though, it made me wonder: why was I keeping my teaching stuff separate from the blog? It’s definitely my latest project, and it’s definitely something to be proud of. So I thought I’d spend this week telling you about it! (With, uh, apologies, to you new readers drawn in by the DIY capiz chandy.)

So today’s topic of discussion: the lectures. We are apparently in the era of powerpoint lectures, with the slides posted online. I didn’t really have that in undergraduate – even those professors who used powerpoint didn’t post the lecture slides. For the most part, my professors used chalk talks. It was definitely kept the class pace slower and less overwhelming, and I was able to draw every process I was required to learn. Because my favorite professors were all-chalk-talk, I try to draw things frequently to avoid an all-powerpoint lecture.

However, I’m not certainly opposed to making and sharing powerpoint slides – it gives me the opportunity to present TONS of info, and the students can watch and think instead of writing constantly. They do write some, because my slides are sometimes sparse. And as for the “but they won’t take notes or come to class if you post the slides!” argument – well, some of my students have already learned the hard way that approach won’t work in my course. So I am pro-lecture-slide-posting.

Another bonus: lecture slides are a visual representation of where ALL MY TIME is going:

I’ll save you the trouble of counting: that’s over THREE HUNDRED SLIDES. For eleven chapters, and less than half of the semester. I’ve made more since I took those screenshots, too. I’ve found that I usually need about twenty slides for an hour lecture... and I have about 36 hour-long lectures. That is A LOT OF LECTURE SLIDES.

My comfort is knowing that when I get a “real teaching job” (my term for a tenure-track faculty position) I won’t have to make slides every semester. From here, it would only get easier. Although then I get a little depressed because I won’t use these again, as I sort of hate the textbook we’re using (or if I did use it I’d totally reorganize the information).

So for my sake, would you please scroll up and stare at those slides some more? And admire all the time they took for just a few minutes in class? Thank you.

As for actually teaching the lectures...

...well, that’s not so bad. I like talking about science for a crowd. I get a little stressed out about the time (though Mr. P’s present solved that problem), and allowing them to fire questions at me for an exam review day is not unlike a qualifying exam for Ph.D candidacy. But otherwise? I really enjoy it. I spend my time at home digging around for awesome videos and tutorials to make my lectures multimedia (see here and here [especially the virtual labs] for my favorites). I get to make wacky analogies, like teaching how to understand Beadle and Tatum’s biochemical genetic pathways by comparing it to catching trains to travel around Italy (a true story, and a total lightbulb moment for my students). Or I drop a Lady Gaga reference when talking about an example of alternative splicing (they were born that way, baby).

Best of all, I get to mix hardcore scientific concepts with the real scientists behind them (note that photographs of people appear frequently in my lecture slides). If I can, I share my experience with those people. Like, a few years ago I watched James Watson run a stop sign in his Jaguar on the Cold Spring Harbor campus, which I guess you are allowed to do if you discover the double-helical structure of DNA. Telling stories about the scientists is maybe my favorite part, because I get to demonstrate to the students that every bit of information in their textbook? A real person, who probably went to college just like them, who also enjoys hanging out with friends and pursuing other hobbies but who also thought science was cool, discovered that. Every. Last. Fact.

So really, I feel like the lectures are my chance to go onstage three days a week and put on a song and dance as a scientific role model. I get to show them not only how cool genetics is, but that you can adore science, even can understand it completely, and still dress fashionably and know about pop music. Are my lectures perfect? Good grief, no. Far from it. Most days I feel not-so-great after delivering a lecture. But do I look forward to a career spent polishing them, to be an even better communicator and role model? Oh yes. Yes, yes.


Christal said...

I bet you make a blasted awesome teacher. Actually, I know you do!!! Beautiful slides! I agree with putting a person behind the theory...I learned a lot in "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and aim to re-read it and do some note-taking before I start teaching for realz. For example, why did no one tell me that Laviosier was BEHEADED? I think that would have made my chemistry classes more interesting, somehow.

Tina said...

Laviosier was beheaded! How horrible! Thanks for the learning, Christal - a bit of info that caused me to look him up. Un/fortunately it's those human interest asides that cause those learning synapses to become even more effective!
Yay! Good work Sari!