We are over half way in Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do and I have only just noticed that Ken was at NYU.  Ken seems to have skipped across the river to Montclair in New Jersey.

In the fifth chapter Bain considers how college teachers conduct their classes.  The two rules are basically keep the students engaged and let them be committed participants.  This is a very brief summary of a whole chapter and Bain makes each of these two points into half a chapter each.

If I reflect upon this in my own life I am reminded of the worst lecturer I ever had.  The class was co-ordinated by a senior academic and a junior academic was left to fill in a lecture or two and make sure the guests turned up to the correct room for the rest of the time.  I still remember the first day the junior academic lectured.  The class up to that point had all been one and a half hours in a three hour slot.  He knew better we had to go for three and a quarter hours.  I ended up with a parking ticket.  He did not keep us engaged.  From my very faulty  memory we were committed because of threats of failure if we walked out.  We were not participants but tortured.  Eventually a year or so later the junior academic was fired.

These ideas are still the backbone of my teaching but Bain starts the chapter with one other idea some of us can do this while lecturing and lecturing alone, others need exercises and lectures and some use exercises only.  I realise my own position now is in the middle – both work for me but it is because I have seen the abuse of lectures that I know there are other ways to keep students engaged as well.

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