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.


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