If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Friday, February 8, 2008

Teaching Conference

So this weekend I'm supposed to be at a local conference on the practice of teaching. I went for a bit this afternoon but didn't feel well enough to stay and my friend made it clear that I was not helping matters by spreading my germs (this particular bug has been going around the entire department). So I'm home. Tomorrow three of us are supposed to present a case study on peer learning from our efforts last semester when we linked an intro graduate course with three sections of an intro undergraduate course. Linking the courses was my idea and presenting it at this conference was my idea but it looks like they'll be presenting it without me. They're great colleagues and friends and I know they'll do a kickass job. I also know they want me to get well and I appreciate them sending me home.

Still it is a little sad to miss this conference. I went for the first time last year and it was a lot of fun. I not only left packed with great ideas that helped my teaching but with a full belly from all the yummy food and treats. Prior to this I had only been to research conferences and the tone here is quite different.
Presentations are about sharing and collaboration and not about proving or critiquing.

It is amazing what you can learn just from hearing how someone else has approached a problem. The seminars are all interactive so in addition to being exposed to the presenters' approach you are also exposed to a room full of teachers swapping techniques and brainstorming options. [Side Note: In workshops and seminars on teaching that I've attended at my current university and others I've always been struck by the format being mostly or all lecture when the content is about teaching interactively - this conference gets it right.]

Not all the seminars are stellar but most are at least good and I think I only went to one last year that was not at all helpful. Today all I managed to sit through was a plenary session. Unfortunately it was one that I did not find particularly helpful. The presenter was an English teacher and a dog trainer and she brought her dog along to help. So imagine a large ballroom filled with round tables and a woman walking between the tables using a clicker to make her dog perform tricks. Unfortunately the dog is too small to see through all of the tables.

Granted I walked in a little late but the only point I really took from the whole show was that we should train our students as we train dogs. Now I have read several books on dog training, one good book on dolphin training, and I've studied behavioral psychology--so I get it. There are proven techniques that can be used with humans, dogs and dolphins to shape behavior. However I'm not convinced I should be slapping quarters down on the desks of my students every time they participate. Nor do I feel that 50% of a presentation grade should be given for "entertainment" value (I'm not really sure what that tip had to do with dog training but whatever).

Probably the worst part of the presentation was that she used volunteers from the audience to act as either dogs or trainers (each with their own special hat) and perform tricks for our amusement. One poor soul had to compete against the presenter's dog. Maybe it was the flu, but I was not amused.

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