I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Writing lectures ...

... has changed completely.

The very first lecture I ever gave was on the poetry of Sylvia Plath (and Adrienne Rich, I think) to first year Modern Literature students. There would have been several hundred of them, and it would have been about 1985. I wore a long-sleeved purple cotton shirt. This was back in the days when women, though present in my department, were more likely tutors than lecturers, and certainly not senior lecturers or professors. I'm sure it was the surprise of seeing a young woman lecturing, and the astonishing poetry of Plath, or perhaps just kindness at seeing someone inexperienced making it through to the end of the lecture without falling over, but I received a round of applause and was instantly, thoroughly hooked.

The writing of lectures, and the nervous anticipation of presenting them, is upon me again this semester. I'm writing new lectures for my own medievalism subject, and next week I will also give two lectures in one of our new multi-disciplinary subjects, Homer to Hollywood. So on Monday I lecture on the Bayeux Tapestry at 10.00, then repeat the lecture at 12.00; then on Wednesday it's the Song of Roland at 10.00, then 45 minutes on Malory and the myth of Camelot to the medievalism students. One of my tutors will then give his first half-lecture in the course on Tennyson's Lady of Shalott (this is a ridiculous 90-minute lecture spot for the 118 students in this course), while I dash back to repeat the Roland lecture at midday.

Over the years I have become more economical in the preparation of lectures. My Plath lecture was a pretty complete script, written well in advance. These days, if I prepare too soon, or too comprehensively, I feel the lecture falls flat. I must also admit, even though I once made a speech about how Powerpoint was not a necessary component of good teaching, I do use it now, as a way of organising my thoughts and concentrating my preparation. So I'll prepare an outline on one slide, load up any images or text I want to analyse, add in a few notes at the bottom of some slides ... and just start talking.

It's a bit risky, this method. It's possible to spend too long finding good images and playing with the powerpoint designs, and forgetting about the actual points you want to make, though it's easier if, like me, you have no design imperatives or skills: default settings usually work just fine. I still find it a little hard to make the best use of powerpoint. It's great for images, and for close textual analysis, and that makes it great for teaching medieval culture, but it does tend to reduce everything down to dot points, when we know - and when we want our students to know - that things are usually a lot more complicated than that.

So while the hot northerly winds bluster around the house*, I'm uploading images of the tapestry, and re-reading the poem, and thinking about Malory, and trying to judge that perfect balance between preparedness and freshness that will see me through those 4.75 hours of lectures next week.

* Thank goodness the weather pixie hasn't put her bikini on, though. I had to think long and hard before choosing this model, because of the swimsuit option that came with it. What if people thought she was me? Worse than wearing the wrong frock to a lecture...


Pavlov's Cat said...

My weatherpixie has a bikini (and has barely taken it off for weeks) but I am in no danger of anyone thinking she's me. No danger at all. Even if the kilos discrepancy were absent, there's still a years discrepancy -- well, decades, really -- that I can't do anything about.

I don't miss lecturing one bit. It's quite exciting while one is actually doing it; it's the torture of preparation that I'm glad to be doing without.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Heh. OK, not so much that I fear being mistaken for her; rather that I fear being mistaken for someone who might wear a bikini on her blog! But I don't know, Pav; if I were sweltering in Adelaide as you are this week (and last; and the one before that), I might feel differently; viz. that if your pixie doesn't wear her bikini now, then she never will.

Elsewhere007 said...

I prefer overheads to powerpoint as a way of organising my thoughts. I can't explain this subtle difference; however, I do believe that powerpoint has a hypnotic effect and is quite capable of putting people to sleep.

Anthony said...

Ah, UniMelb English 1985! I recall my class giving Marion Campbell a round of applause at lecture's end, too. Probably for similar reasons: an intelligent, articulate woman offering new insights into an old text (King Lear, i think(. What's not to applaud?

But what's with the repeat lectures? Don't you have alecture theatre large enough to fit in all students enrolled i nthe subject at one time?

As for PowerPoints, I was sceptical of them too, until I became a regular lecturer. Now I write a draft lecture and then work out the PowerPoints which forces me to go back and think about the structure of what I've just written. And thinking abot structure can't be a bad thing.

As for reducing thinking to dot points, I think it is useful toask yourself: what three (or four or two) points do I want students to take away from this lecture (or this part of a lecture), even if one of the poitns is that you want to encourage them to go away and think more deeply about the complexity of the issue. That is, there's no problem reducing things to dot points if one of the dot points is: this cannot be reduced to a dot point - go off and do your own thinking on this matter.