Thursday, March 29, 2012

First lecture - ever

This month marked another milestone in my PhD learning process - I had my first ever lecture. Of course I was scared, of course I was nervous, but I do think it was a very valuable experience.

Here's what I learned:

1. Preparing takes a lot of time

I measured roughly 30 hours of preparation for the 2 hour lecture (altough that's still better than the old adage that an minute of public speaking requires an hour of preparation). Most of this time was spent at home, during evenings and weekends - when I am typically slower because I am already tired or because I am trying to get some loads of laundry done at the same time.

However, I started it off all wrong (I think). I spent too much time with the material itself. In fact, I fully studied the entire chapter on the topic from the previous course, and then I fully studied the entire chapter that I was going to lecture. I could as well have done just the chapter I needed to lecture - because that is what I actually needed.

2. Cooking up an example is really hard

Coming up with an example was a massive time-drain. I kept trying out different things, from different course books that I own, without really finding a good example. I ended up pulling out an old homework of mine, and manipulating that example until it finally "worked". And still I felt there is room for improvement in there.

3. How to actually do it

Another massive time-drain in my preparation was the question "how am I going to do this?". I googled around a bit about lecturing, and I frowned and scratched my hair a few times - with very little result. I ended up with a hybrid solution of making slides and using notes for writing on the blackboard. I did enjoy not having to draw all the sketches on the blackboard, but just being able to project them, but I think I could explain the material better if I'd take the time to sketch and explain what I am sketching - instead of just projecting it and assuming the students will catch the thought.

4. Timing the lecture itself

That was the hardest part: I went too fast in the beginning and I needed more time for the example than I originally thought. Lesson for next time: bring less material but take more time to explain all of it.

5. The aftermath

I'm amazed to see how much I've learned from it (it sounds cheesy, but it's true). For another course which  I TA, I notice that I am much faster at helping the students because I now have the material going through all my veins. Studying and understanding the material is one thing, lecturing it gives you a whole new perspective and level of understanding of the material.

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