Lecture Stories pt. 1

First year lecture, it’s BCM110, Sue Turnbull is flicking through slides and giving her lecture in the traditional Sue way. She turns our attention to a YouTube video, presses play and we watch the whole video. Once it’s done, she starts to analyse the video, only soon to realise that next YouTube video is playing and she can’t figure out how to stop it. This called for ‘Blue Shirt Guy’ to come to the rescue! Just an eager uni student sitting near the front of the lecture theatre didn’t expect all eyes on him as the tech guru when he walked into the lecture one Tuesday afternoon. Before long Twitter was filled with tweets from others in the lecture thanking our saviour, making memes and trends. Within the hour, the once Riley became Blue Shirt Guy to all, he even changed his twitter name to this infamous pseudo! This would have had to have been the most memorable lecture that I have ever attended.

Paint me a picture of what it was like to be part of your most memorable lecture.

If you’re a lecturer and would like to take part of this online discussion about your experiences comment below and find a link here to my Project Information and the intentions of my research.

#lecturestories

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5 thoughts on “Lecture Stories pt. 1”

  1. Monique, I love that you’re using this story finding method to work out your project. What’s surprised me is how hard it is actually to remember a memorable lecture experience. When I stop and think, I get a kind of mental mashup of lots of lectures (and mashups of the lecture theatres they’ve been in), and mostly I stick on the question of technical failure. So many fails. So from my own perspective, specific memorability is genuinely weak, and I’m so interested to know if other lecturers have clearer recall of specific lectures.

    One that comes to me is a strange personal memory. When I first came back to work after chemotherapy, it was only to lectures. I was still in the middle of radiation treatment, and I was quite sick. I was also still visibly a cancer patient — no hair, headscarves, all of it. So I was really aware that this was part of my professional self in front of students (who were truly lovely about it all). And in one lecture, about five minutes before I went in, I was hit with a really powerful and disturbing vision problem. I literally couldn’t see past a large floating thing in one eye. So like any good patient, I googled it, sitting outside the lecture theatre, and as a result I went through the whole 45 minutes thinking: wow, I have a detached retina, and then fled to the hospital immediately I’d finished.

    (Which I didn’t, by the way.)

    Looking back I think lecturing is experienced often from this “two body” position. There’s the me that is visible, and the me that is thinking entirely separate things to myself.

    Yikes, or maybe I’m the only one who does this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Been thinking a great deal about this post and project over the last week and I’m with Kate on this, most lectures are ticked off with a thankful relief and we move on, hoping to do better next time around.

      Some of my best lectures have been to four students (thanks H1N1) and some of my worst to 400. Sometimes months and years of preparation fails to coalesce into something meaningful, leaving students scratching their heads and frowning with ‘WTF’ looks and other times you might just ‘nail’ it and even receive applause for your efforts.

      Last week I spent way too long preparing for a guest lecture. The first half of the lecture time was spent waiting for technical support to breathe life back into the dead PC terminal following the once-year shampooing of the carpet which shorted out the power supply. The other half was an attempt to retrofit the carefully planned narrative of the lecture after dumping the introductory parts in order to save time. uggh.

      I’ve never been confident in my ability to provide a “good” lecture, as I’m still not really sure what that really means. It’s not something we are trained in as academics to do, merely something we are all expected to be able to do, and do well enough to register satisfaction on the annual teaching and subject evaluations.

      One lecture, a couple of years ago, stands out because in my mind I was James Brown doing “Please, Please, Please” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vruy2GRUsV8), but despite all the anxious energy and “explosive compression” of thought (http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/possessed-james-brown-eighteen-minutes) the reality was a luminescent sea of glowing Apple logos, mobile phones screens and the bored faces of folks whose thoughts were occupied elsewhere.

      I realised then the lecture isn’t dead, but the lecture as a shared physical space, like other analogue media formats is giving way to new modes and patterns of access for audiences equipped with potential for more agency and even more anxiety.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I just want to come back to this conversation as I’m so interested in Chris saying “the lecture isn’t dead” but is becoming a different space of anxiety. The thing that keeps coming up for me is how we learn to use one another’s human time considerately. That is, when I lecture, am I considerate of the demand I’m making on other people’s attention? It’s a lot to ask. When I listen, am I listening with some sense of what it’s like to be the person having to do the work up at the front of the room? How do we all learn to act in a way that acknowledges that shared time is also part of the other person’s limited remaining lifetime, and use that time wisely? (Chris once taught me how to understand all resources as finite or shareable, but I’ve completely forgotten the useful legal term he used. But essentially, if I eat the chocolate you can’t eat the same chocolate, but if you watch GoT I can copy it and watch it too. Oh wait! I remember the words: rivalrous and non rivalrous. Anyhow, time.)

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  2. Hi Monique – these are some great questions, really thought-provoking stuff. I’ve been trying to think about what the ‘most memorable’ lecture I gave was, and there’s one which comes to mind most readily, so I guess that’s it. I like the idea of telling it as a story – painting a picture. I think some of the best feelings (yes, feelings – its an emotional activity) I have about lecturing are to do with how a narrative is built up through a lecture / throughout a course.

    I was lecturing an introductory (first-year / freshers) course on formal logic to a class of about 100 philosophy students. Philosophy students tend to have arts / humanities backgrounds – and I often hear students in logic classes saying ‘I’m not a maths person’ or ‘I don’t do mathematics’, so formal logic with its symbols and rules can look very daunting to them. So they come in with a certain amount of trepidation, and I put a lot of work into trying to make it accessible, digestible, obvious-seeming (some students later say ‘is that all it is? huh, that’s just trivial!’), and even fun. We use a lot of toy examples in English (no symbols) to start with, just to get everybody on the same page and to see that we’re not going to break away at high speed and lose anyone, and then we gradually introduce some symbols and some rules, a bit at a time.

    I’d got a point in the course where we were getting further away from natural language examples, and we were introducing a couple of new symbols (and their conceptual content, and the rules that go with them) each session. In this lecture, I could feel the anxiety in the room, because we’d got through a new symbol and a couple of rules for it, and were changing over to a new symbol, and then we were going to try to use them together. [It’s really interesting that when you’re up at the front of a lecture theatre, you’re getting so much information and communication from the students – you detect even subtle shifts in ‘temperature’ (metaphorical and sometimes literal) and in volume / silence / fidgeting, in attention and focus (heads go up when a slide changes / heads go down when everyone writes down the same thing), when people are confused (they look up and between the screen, at you, and at their notes much more quickly, darting between them, trying to put the thoughts in order to comprehend them – usually with a frowny face).]

    I knew that they’d manage this new symbol just fine – it’s not hard, they were getting everything else – and I just wanted to get over the steeper-part of the learning bulge where the main formal rule is introduced, so that I could get to the part where I flesh it out with playful, intuitive examples. I’d just put the slide up with the rule, and pointed out its main features when a student in the front row put their hand up and shouted out their question at the same time in a loud voice, which everyone could hear. Their question was semi-technical, and used some conceptual vocabulary that we hadn’t encountered already on the course, but which I was going to explain later, once we’d mastered the basic idea (it turns out that this student was repeating the course). It’s simple stuff, but when a class of anxious students are trying to scribble down the definition of a key concept and focus on how it’s going to work, they were totally disrupted by this question, which suddenly made everything seem a lot harder. The question was essentially: ‘when we’re talking about X, do you mean X-in-an-A-way or X-in-a-B-way?’, but it used some jargon. And what’s noticeable is that the answer to the question was straightforwardly given by what was on the slide (so anyone who knew the difference between the A and the B versions would be able to see from what I was presenting that I was talking about A – and for anyone who didn’t know about that distinction, it wouldn’t matter for another ten minutes). I could feel the temperature change, people started whispering, I worried that we were going to lose the momentum that we needed to get us over the bulge and into the intuitive examples. So I said, quite clearly: ‘thanks for that question – I’m going to address this in a little while, I’m glad you know about this difference already. Let’s just concentrate on the basic idea for the moment’. But the student replied, loudly, that it was essential that I explain which version of X I was talking about – “is it A or is it B? it makes a difference”. I’m not sure why, but I decided to try to just take a bit of control of the way things were going – I answered, quite firmly: ‘We’re going to get to that in a minute, but if any of you are aware of this distinction, you should be able to tell just by looking at the slide – the answer to this question is right in front of you. For everyone else, don’t worry, we’ll be getting to it.” And I thought that would cover it, and that we’d get back to where we’d got cut off. But the student in the front row said “I can’t look at the slide, I’m blind.” Everyone heard it, there was a collective intake of breath.

    And then everyone started talking at once, and there was a sort of confusion in the room (or maybe it was just me). I told the class to discuss with each other what we’d covered so far, and while they were talking I stepped down to talk to the student directly. I apologised for telling them to look at the slide given their impairment, I explained that I’d wanted to deal with this shortly, but that I was using the A-version of X, and that I’m glad they felt like they could ask these questions but that I felt that we needed to keep alert to the fact that other people might be panicking and that we shouldn’t rush into too many technical distinctions all at once. The student said that they had Asperger’s Syndrome and that they were very bad at reading social cues, so they didn’t know that there had been any tension building up. When I stepped back up to the front, I told the whole class that I’d apologised to the student, and that I was apologising to them all for not managing the situation properly, and I took questions, and we gradually got back into the swing of things.

    Reflecting on it, I’m still struck by a variety of emotions and thoughts (and this is 8 years later). I think I had a very clear vision about how these students were going to get their head around the concepts, and that I really wanted to shepherd them into the right place gently, without too many bumps, so that they’d feel comfortable, and then gradually introduce complexity. I wonder now whether that’s not just a bit too paternalistic – I’ve had messier lectures, where I’ve had less preparation for the bumps along the way, and we’ve got there together eventually, just by negotiating the bumps as they come along. But of course, you don’t really know whether you’ve all ‘got there’, sometimes all you can base it on is the temperature in the room / the embodied feedback coming from the class, the show of hands, the furrowed brows. I think I was the one who was very anxious about introducing the new concepts and symbols, and I might have been projecting some of that on everyone else. And it hadn’t occurred to me, despite my efforts to cushion the material as much as possible, that there could be students with such a diverse array of specifically confounding issues – I thought I was exercising ‘care’, and picking up on the class’s needs really well, but this incident just highlighted how much those are broad-brush-strokes, which can really neglect individual learning needs.

    This isn’t to say that lecturing necessarily fails, or that the lecture should be confined to the scrap heap, just because it can’t be sensitive to every individual need at every individual moment. The course went well, students performed better than average, the written feedback was overwhelmingly positive and useful, and that particular student finally passed (it transpires it was their third attempt). The incident cemented a sense of community, it showed students that I’m a human too (they could see I was embarrassed, that I was anxious). It reminds me that lecturing is an intensely emotional / affective activity, but that we (lecturers) need to be able to keep some distance from some of the things we’re experiencing in the moment (this is like what Kate says above about having ‘two bodies’ in the room) because its not always a useful/accurate guide to how we should proceed during the lecture.

    Liked by 1 person

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