November 11, 2005

How not to demonstrate your teaching skills

When university lectureships are advertised, typically the short-listed applicants will have to give a mini lecture to demonstrate their supposed teaching skills. This lecture is typically attended by some members of the department curious to see who the candidates are and what their teaching skills are like.

Today we had some rather interesting teaching mini-lectures from job applicants. In fact it gave me several ideas about what to do and what not to do at a academic job interview. Here are my recommendations:

Try and be interesting.

Specifically, try and be more interesting than the view out of the window.

Don't overdo it.

That is, don't bring in your fluffy toy and use lots of animations and pretty pictures and sounds and whizzy effects just to explain some minor point about entity relationship diagrams. Just because someone told you that you should liven up your lecturing style doesn't mean that we can't recognise unnecessary pizzazz when we see it.

Don't use random visual aids.

If you're creative and use something that is applicable to the topic, then that's fine, but don't just use visual (and other) aids just for the sake of it. It smacks of trying too hard, and worse, shows that you don't know how to choose your visual aids appropriately.

Show some enthusiasm!

Students like a lecturer who is passionate about their subject. A bit of enthusiasm for explaining the topic you're talking about is always good; try and remember to breathe and keep the pitch at a normal level for a speaking voice, though.

Have decent content in your lecture slides.

We like to think our students are going to learn something from their lecture notes. Content-free slides do not reassure us.

Answer questions straightforwardly.

Don't dodge the question. If you don't know, say you don't know. That may not make you look very knowledgeable, but that's better than us thinking you're going to feed wrong information to students.

Get your facts right.

When you're preparing lecture slides beforehand, there's really no excuse for factual errors on them!

Don't make spelling errors either.

Ok so not everyone can spell brilliantly, but would it really have killed you to use the spell-checker in Powerpoint? Do you think we like the idea that you are going to encourage students to spell even worse than they already do?

Mind what you choose for examples.

Don't choose some kind of sensitive topic. Going on about BMI and the ideal weight range when you have several fat students in the lecture room isn't exactly going to make them happy, and they won't concentrate on the computing topic you're trying to teach them either.

November 09, 2005

University shower facilities

The university provides showers. There are two showers nearby to the building where I work, one in the gents loos, and one in the ladies.

Today I went over to this other building for a shower. Unusually, the widget on the shower cubicle was showing red. But there were no shower noises coming from the shower. I couldn't see through the opaque door, so I called out

"Anyone in there?"

A few seconds went by. Then came a reply of


"Are you just starting your shower or finishing?"


"Ok, thanks"

So to bide my time, I went over to the mirror and got all narcissistic with it.

After a few moments, one male student exits the shower cubicle, followed a few moments later by a female student!! I think I know what the student was doing in the changing rooms belonging to the other gender (they were impressively quiet, though). They didn't look dishevelled but they did look rather shame-faced and they scuttled off rather quickly. Aw poor students, just their luck to get up to some intra-lesson fun and then have a lecturer appear for a shower!

November 07, 2005

Black Holes

Black holes have been frequent this week. What I mean by a black hole is a situation where I send some information to someone that requires a response, and for all the response I get I might as well have sent the information to a black hole. This, as you might imagine, is really irritating.

I am trying to have some sympathy. I imagine we all get deluged with a large amount of information, and it's easy to let some emails go unanswered that you meant to reply to, and too tempting to let the odd task go undone that you should do. But so many people seem to be taking the line "I'll only do it if I get pushed for it", and some are not even up to that level of service.

But it is getting more frequent, and when it's some support service that I am asking for and need, what I am supposed to do? Nag people? Play the heavy? Wait patiently? For how long?

Currently I am waiting for:

  • Tech support to deliver the disks they promised (10 weeks and counting, 2 reminders sent)
  • Urgent room booking issue (7 days)
  • Tech support to do a small software set up task (9 days, 1 reminder)

Not a flicker of reponse from any of 'em. I wouldn't mind if they said they were terribly busy and estimated when they would be able to get to doing it, but just no response at all? That really shortens my fuse. To add to that, it's not even stuff I want done for myself, it's all stuff concerning the organisation of courses I'm running, and I'm not doing it for my benefit, I'm putting myself out to make sure that the courses are properly run for the students, and I can't even get the support I want? It's not like I've personally given them loads of tasks to do. We are talking one only per person.