Evaluation in a multi-discipline department

The day's pretty miserable here, though that's alright. It's been ages since I've posted two days in a row, but today seems like a good time for it. I've got my second in-class evaluation happening next week, and I need to prep for it.

One of the things that is making life interesting here is the realization that I'm one of a few folks who recognizes that this is actually a multi-disciplinary department. That realization, if it happens, is going to be horrifying for some folks (most notably some of the tenured folks who were here back in the day). I knew it coming in - it was part of the attraction - but I also thought everyone here knew it, too. More than once this year - and I'm sure I've commented on it in the blog at some point - I've found myself thinking "didn't they read my CV?"

I've been thinking about this multi-discipline problem as a sort of theme that would likely guide my posts for a bit, because now that I feel like I've got some grasp on the day-to-day here, I feel a bit more comfortable writing about it. The big point, aside from thinking about what's goes into evaluating teaching in such an environment, is that it seems to me that multi-discipline departments are going to become more and more prominent.

From the standpoint of the teaching observation, I'm realizing just how different the assumptions from one discipline and, I suspect, from one generation of a discipline to another really are. There were shocked looks when, in a job talk someone was giving, I asked the more senior faculty to define a term they all using. But very quickly it was apparent that they all used it differently without realizing. There are similar assumptions here about teaching.

I'm a lecture guy in the classroom. I like a little discussion, but I recognize that I'm prone to tangents that way. And I think that if you're talking theory, it's best to provide a workable platform for students to work from rather than hope they'll get there in a 50 minute discussion. I don't think it's an invalid move to emphasize discussion; I just don't think it's the be-all/end-all of teaching. The view here, as it has been recently expressed to me (and as it was suggested in my first teaching evaluation), is that good teaching equates to discussion. In part, the justification is that discussion is what students indicate they prefer. It's a nice bit of vapid hocus-pocus: students also prefer not coming to classes or being told they've done something wrong. If we inch unthinkingly that way - the student as "always right" consumer - we're going to wind up doing a grave disservice to them and to ourselves.

So I'm struggling with what I'll be doing in the class, because there's a conflict between what I think I should do and what I think I'm expected to do.

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Brigindo said...

I tend to do what I call "lecturettes." These are 15 minute lectures that get across a piece of what I need to be covered in the class. I don't teach in 50 minute blocks but in a class that lasts an hour and a half I do 2-3 of these. In between the lecturettes I have open discussion or brief small group activities. I'm pretty sure there's research that shows after 10-15 minutes of lecture your audience starts to wander and even a brief 5 minute exercise or discussion can bring them back on track. Don't know if this would be helpful in your discipline or valued in your department but it works well for me.

March 13, 2010 at 6:40 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Good suggestions; I don't always structure mine that way, but I tried with this one. We'll see how it goes.

March 17, 2010 at 4:32 PM