Saturday, March 22, 2008

New Ways of Teaching: Opening up the Classroom

As we all know, teaching requires certain aids. A blackboard and a piece of chalk is a good start (after all, you don't want to make your students cry when you talk about, say, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd ). Add to that an overhead projector and transparencies. A beamer and a PowerPoint presentation. A blog (like this one). Music, films, perhaps even a plastic rat that you throw across the classroom in appropriate moments (e.g., when introducing the subject of the Black Death). If you're desperate you might even try to sing -- all to keep your students entertained and make them remember (some of) the stuff you've been discussing in class.

At Mainz University one of the hot subjects currently is using new media to enhance the teaching and learning experience. Thus our univserity offers digital handouts, e-mail loops, and message boards, but some teachers are also experimenting with chats and podcasts. And last night I joined their ranks.

For quite a while now I've been thinking about doing a podcast to accompany some of my courses and to help my students with revisions. Yet I also see podcasting as a chance to open up the classroom and get more people interested in literature, in books they might have never read otherwise. Therefore I launched Books, Cats and Me: Literature for Everyone last night and uploaded the first episode. In the following weeks I'm first going to talk about British History (aka From the Ice Age to Maggie Thatcher in Nine Weeks) and will then spent the rest of spring and summer discussing Thackeray. And of course you're all invited to listen and chime in with thoughts and questions!

I know it's not romance as such, but at least we'll move to the Regency era (and to the early Victorian Age) with Thackeray: there'll be a romantic hero, villains, noble noblemen, musings in bay windows of gentlemen's clubs, love, marriage (more than one), intrigue (ditto), a duel, a broken heart (or two) and a happy ending (well, sort of anyway). Enjoy!


  1. That sounds so exciting! I would totally listen to that type of stuff while I'm working out... being the English geek that I am.

    Being a college student, sometimes I feel that too much technology is not a good thing. Or should I say, it is very easy with new and shiny programs for students and professors alike to go overboard. I know that technology is a good way to appeal to different learning styles, which is great.

    But for me at least, the blackboard and some well used props are better for me than computer presentations. For instance, power-point presentations can sometimes get a little visually overwhelming. You have pictures and text on screen, and sometimes they are moving. And then you have the professor talking to you, all while you are trying to take notes.

    In highschool I did have a professor who taped all his lectures with a video camera. Part of it was so he could evaluate his own teaching style and see what he did well, but it also was helpful if a student missed a class. He could just give the video to the student, and they could watch the lecture. It wasn't as good as the in-class experience, but it was still helpful.

    The podcasts sound like a good way that you could provide some sort of review and supplement if a student was studying for the final.

  2. But for me at least, the blackboard and some well used props are better for me than computer presentations.

    JC, at the beginning of the winter semester beamers were finally installed in all rooms of our building -- and I have to admit, I went a little overboard with the PowerPoint presentations at first. In the end, I reverted back to my old transparencies. And to using the blackboard. It's amazing how many things you can explain simply by drawing a few stick-figures on the blackboard. :)

  3. All you're supposed to need is a log with Mark Hopkins on the other end!

    Podcasts sound fascinating--too bad my sound is defunct. Back in MY day (Late Crepuscular Era) the most we could hope for was a mimeographed course outline and bibliography.

    So, What DO your cats like to read?

  4. Talpianna, my cats mostly just sit on my books and look superior. Or they regard books with misgivings, especially when those nasty things are in their way on my lap. :)

  5. Sandra, if they are sitting on the books, they are probably absorbing the contents by osmewsis.