It is always hard to get going and motivated toward the end of the semester. I’m tired, the students are tired, and everyone is just waiting on the end of the semester to get here. We all can’t wait for it all to be done, and this is always more true of the spring semester than the fall semester. These last couple of lectures are really rough to get through for that very reason, although if the classes can help support me, I can usually make it through them without too much trouble. Monday was a show in what that means. I teach two classes on Monday, one at 9:30am and one at 11am. The contrast between these two classes is stark.
In the 9:30 class, the students are generally good, paying attention and responding to the lecture. I am not the type of person who asks very many questions in lecture, so the response I am talking about is eye contact, nodding, smiling, and that sort of thing. It doesn’t take much of that to keep me going well. If you add in a few questions or comments from the students, then I can make it through a lecture just fine with no problems and some enthusiasm, even at this late date in the semester. The lecture covered roughly the period from 1980-1992, so I talked a lot about Reagan, spent some time on Iran-Contra, discussed the fall of the Soviet Union, played out the Persian Gulf War, and ended with the 1992 election. It is not, admittedly, the most exciting lecture, and I would love to divide it up into at least two lectures to hit some of those topics in more detail. However, it flows pretty well and is not too bad of a lecture. Most students at least find the Iran-Contra explanation to be interesting.
The other class was much different. It is my two-way video class, so I know that the high school students that I connect to will be completely unconnected. I don’t know if they are monitored on that end, but I get the feeling they are only vaguely paying attention, especially by this time in the semester. What was more of a problem was the students in front of me. The class originally had 15 people in it. Two have dropped, so technically there are 13 students in the class. However, on Monday, only 7 showed up, making it a tough class to begin with. Out of those 7, only 2 of the students were actually paying attention to me with any of those visual clues that I mentioned earlier. And even those two were obviously day dreaming by a certain point in the lecture. So, I just lost all interest in it myself. If the students aren’t into it, I can manufacture enthusiasm earlier in the semester, but, by this point, it can be a struggle. I turned into super-fast lecture mode, just spewing out the material, with little regard for the ability of my inattentive class to follow it. And, none of them protested, asked any questions, or even looked up at me. The result was that the lecture that took me about 70 minutes during the 9:30 class was over in 55 minutes in the 11am class.
That is what an uninspiring class can do, and why I just feel that the lecture style is killing me and my students after a certain point. I hope tomorrow will be better, but it was a forgettable day.
I did something new today. I didn’t finish it, but I did get it started. I started writing a new lecture. That might not seem like that big of a deal, but it is when you are stuck in the academic rut that teaching at a community college can get you in. At my community college, I am only allowed to teach the two halves of the American history survey. That means that it is easy to simply rely on the same lectures over and over and never fundamentally change anything as far as what you teach. It is just the same two classes over and over, and it is an easy rut to fall into.
This semester, as I was looking at my schedule for classes this semester, and I came up one day short with all that I wanted to do. So, I decided it was time to write a new lecture. I have been relying on the lectures that I wrote in graduate school, over six years ago. I have altered them some and moved things around, but I have not fundamentally changed anything about them in all that time. My own lectures have ended in 1992 since the point, as that was appropriate when I first developed the lectures for the second half survey. With the new space that I had this semester, I decided it was time to extend the class. So, I am now going to go until the September 11th attacks.
That means that I wrote a lecture today that covers basically 1992-2001. It was weird to write that lecture, that’s for sure, as I lived through that period, even more than the 1980s material. I was a fully functioning and politically aware person through all of that time, and so I saw the things first-hand.
It was also weird to sit down and write a lecture, as I have not really done that in a long time. I had to think some just about organization and what I wanted to cover, in a way that I have not had to in a while. Right now, the lecture is running quite long, but I’m taking the approach of putting everything down that I can think to talk about in a class. Then, I can go back in and shorten, clarify, and focus the lecture. I want to make sure that it has a good thematic focus and a strong base of evidence, just what I ask of my students in their own writing.
The next step after I finish writing and editing the lecture will be to do the other things that are involved. I will then have to put together the PowerPoint associated with it and record the audio podcasts that accompany the lecture. All of this will be in preparation for the debut of the new lecture next week.
The ironic thing about all of this work is that I’m about to abandon the lecture format, so this might be something that doesn’t even get used that much. But I still want this to be a good one, even if the students don’t appreciate it.
Today was an uninspiring teaching day. I have reworked lectures at various times over the years, and much of that has been to shorten earlier in the semester lectures so that I can make it further into the time period that I’m covering. Today was one of those lectures where I made cuts that disconnected the material from its real point. So, I struggled through the first delivery to connect everything together and show the students why this was not just a collection of random material but instead was connected and relevant. It worked better by the second class, but both classes were also depressing for another reason. The big problem is that I felt the students were more disconnected than usual today. The drops are starting, so some students are getting out of the class now, but I really have a large number of people simply not showing up. And, of those who do show up, it’s hard to peg very many of them as actually paying all that much attention. Again, it certainly wasn’t my best material at all, but it just reinforces for me the problem with a lecture. When my lecture is going really well, I might have 50-60% student engagement. Today, it felt like 20-30%, which is just depressing overall. In my second class, which is a two-way video class, the high school I was connecting to was not in session, and a lot of people were missing in front of me, so I ended up lecturing to nine people. Twenty-six out of forty in the first class was already low for this time of year, but nine is really depressing. And then to see them mostly disconnected is even worse, as there’s no hiding the fact that you’re not connecting on the material with that few students in the room.
I have been saying for a while that my lectures need to be revised soon, and this lecture was one that needs to be worked with desperately. It might work better as one that is not delivered but that is, instead, seen by the students not as an individual lecture but as a narrative supplement that I have available to enhance the hybrid class going on in the classroom. I guess that’s going to be the question when I do redo the class, whether it’s a full flip or not, which is do I present the lectures at that point in episodic form, like they are now, where there are distinct lectures, or do I format my own material like a book, putting it together in a narrative that the students can engage with like they would the textbook. They can read it in pieces or all at once. I’m thinking of an integrated lecture, with my PowerPoint images combined with the text from the lectures that can be read more like a book. I don’t know, just brainstorming here. I started that a while ago and made it through the first two lectures, coding them in Dreamweaver to bring together a web lecture. Nothing fancy except for integration of the images with text. Still, it would give the students something to read more interesting than just a Word document with an accompanying Power Point. And, this would give a good opportunity to rework the lectures, especially if I am to move beyond the delivery of the lectures and think about them more as a way to deliver my ideas to the student. I can imagine that the lectures would be different if they were aimed at being read rather than delivered. I don’t know. This will be something to think about as I move forward.
I guess all of us who teach have these days, but it was definitely less than inspiring. Beyond that, it was mostly small stuff at work, writing a recommendation letter and weighing in on the choosing of a new textbook for the class. I wish I could say there was more, but that’s about it. I have grading to do, but I did not get any done today, because that filled up my day, and by the time I got home, it was time to pick up the kids. Then, it was chores, homework time with the kids, and dinner. Now, all of the sudden, it’s 10pm. So, I shall sign off for the evening and hope for a more inspiring day tomorrow.