Sunday, July 29, 2007

Advice sought

Next week one of the topics my grad student tutorial group is meant to be looking at is one that I struggle with myself. I can teach it to undergrads, no problem. But it is complicated, and I haven't read much on it, and what I have read is inconsistent and contradictory. I know that at least one of the grad students in this group has a research interest in this topic, and I have already mentioned to her that it would be great if she share her thoughts on the readings and explain her own research to the group. She is reluctant, though, which I think is a cultural matter, since she is always quiet in class and is very worried that her English is not good enough (which is totally untrue).

Anyway, my question is, do you think I would be better off to read as much as I can on this topic and try to bluff it, or to admit that I don't have much background in this area and take the approach that, as a group, we can discover this topic together on the basis of the readings that I assigned?* Usually I would say that there is nothing wrong with the second approach, but I am already feeling a little inadequate to teach this group (they are all my age or older, and some of them have been studying for just as long as I have). Also, on the course evaluation forms at the end of the semester, there is a question that specifically asks, "How well did the lecturer/tutor know the topics they were teaching?" A bad score here has a negative impact on your overall score.

I hate being a slave to the evaluations at the expense of good teaching, but at this stage in my career, I can't afford to ignore them, so I'm currently leaning towards the bluffing technique. What do you think?


* Obviously I have read the readings myself, and understand them as well as most of the students are likely to, but I can see a ton of questions that they are likely to have after reading them, and I'm not currently in a position to be able to answer most of these myself. If I wanted to be able to answer all my own questions that I had after these assigned readings, I think I would have to read at least six or seven of the papers and three of the books listed in the original readings' references. I could probably just manage that (I have 10 days), but at the expense of a lot of other things.


Twirly said...

Maybe the knowledgeable student would be willing to sit down and go through the readings with you independently (and of course you'd credit her)....and then you can do sort of a mix of options

The History Enthusiast said...

I think you could find a happy balance here: do a little extra reading, but also rely on the knowledgeable student for assistance with other student questions. By doing some extra reading you'll gain confidence with the subject matter, which is always a boon. I always feel better going into the classroom if I know I can answer at least *some* of the hard questions.

Secret Squirrel said...

I like both those ideas. Thanks!