Your Favorite Class

Thursday June 9, 2016

I read a fairly bad book which included this:

When you think back to your favorite college class, there's a good chance the professor you most enjoyed injected a fair amount of humor into his or her presentations.

That section was about humor in presentations, but the reference got me thinking about my own favorite college class, which wasn't particularly funny.

I couldn't name or even recognize the professor of the class I remember most strongly. The class was memorable because the professor wasn't doing the same things other professors did. The professor was orchestrating the class so that students did things.

This was the first class I recall in which the professor would pose a question and tell us to turn and talk about it with the people near us for a solid five minutes, multiple times through a "lecture."

This class had a long reading list from which we chose what we wanted to read. I read The Agile Gene. I probably thought more about that book than anything else I read as an undergrad.

In this class we did a group project. My group decided to transcribe Family Guy in the International Phonetic Alphabet. It was so much fun, I'm sure we learned more about the IPA and thought more about regional dialects than we would have done with a more typical assignment.

I learned more about teaching techniques like these, which I might summarize as student-centered, when I studied teaching at Bard. They were so rare at my university that it was shocking when I encountered a class that didn't reduce perfectly well to a series of videos.

If the most memorable thing about a class is the person teaching it, that's an indictment of the class, not a recommendation. It certainly doesn't hurt for a teacher to be charismatic, but it's sad for students to go through school hoping to encounter super-teachers who are expert entertainers, as if that's the best or only way to learn.