Friday, December 4, 2009

End of Teaching in the Aughts

I have taught my last lecture in the 2000's, with the next one coming in the teens or whatever 2010-19 will be called.  Today is my last seminar in the aughts. So a few thoughts are in order.

Before starting, I just checked and I have blogged a lot about teaching--no surprise--so let me just focus on how the aughts were different for me (and perhaps others) in terms of teaching.

  • I was teaching at Texas Tech in 2000 and McGill in 2009.  So that probably colors (or colours) much of my thinking.  So consider that a caveat....
  • Cell phones went from being a rare nuisance to almost as common as cough in the age of H1N1.  I joke that it used to be only drug dealers who had cell phones and pagers, but that makes me sound really old.
  • I would not say that the majority of students bring laptops to lectures and seminars, but it is pretty close.  It was exceptional in 1999.  I have not found them to be distracting in lectures.  They may be distracting the students who have them or those nearby as they facebook or play games like farmville.  Laptops in seminars, I find, are far more distracting as students page through documents online to get the right quote or through their stashed notes to figure out the answer to a question, which impedes the natural conversation and give and take.
  • Technology has gotten much, much better.  I used to have frequent problems in launching my slides on the big screen, but that is no longer a problem.
  • The internet has been both boon and bane in terms of plagiarism.  That is, it is easier for students to cheat and easier for us to catch them, even if we don't use a site or program designed to catch them. 
  • The net has definitely made it far easier to add graphics, check facts, and incorporate videos and other stuff into my teaching.  Does this make me an edu-tainer?  Well, for 600 students every fall, mixing it up keeps them awake and perhaps plays well to different learning styles. 
  • Are the students any different?  It may be hard to separate the Tech/McGill differences from the nineties vs aughts.  Certainly, the choice of attire is different--from sweats and baseball hats to, ahem, less than I would expect in a cold climate.  I have not really seen a change in the McGill students over time in terms of how hard they work or in their intelligence.  There may be a creeping entitlement--that students are surprised when slides are not posted ahead of time and get somewhat uppity when the automatic recording system for the big class does not work (usually once or twice a term).  It teaches them moral hazard--that insurance schemes such as secondary sources of notes may lead to unfortunate consequences as they engage in risky behavior (ditching classes).  
Overall, I have found myself loosening up (I ended up youtubing too much and had to pull back a bit) and enjoying teaching more.  I give the occasional extremely biased lecture (like this week's about Iraq--see next post) with a warning that it is biased, but then I can really rip into the material with passion.  Quite cathartic.

So, my teaching has changed over time.  I focus a bit more on policy thanks to my time in the Pentagon, I am more willing to experiment, and I enjoy it far more (well, except for the grading and letters of recommendation).

I do love my job even as I encounter various bumps in the road.  When I was in my first courses in graduate school, I wondered if I was up to this stuff.  I considered my alternatives---policeman, firefighter, astronaut, cowboy.... ok, thinking like a ten year old, but I could not think of anything better than this.  And I still cannot--I have chosen the perfect career for my personality:
  1. It allows me to embrace my narcissism by compelling the attention of large groups of young folks;
  2. I can talk for almost as much as I want.
  3. The students keep forcing me to learn every day.
  4. I don't get bored because the world is a fun combination of change and consistency.  And everything changes every few months in an academic environment--the class, the students, etc. 
  5. I control my time and what I do and how I do it.  The year in the Pentagon taught me that hierarchy is not my natural environment.


Anonymous said...

Professor Saideman, could you write me a letter of recommendation?

Steve Greene said...

I could have written 95% of that myself.

Steve Saideman said...

95% I guess the Pentagon stuff might be the other 5% or is it the restraint I initially had and lost (that you were always pretty loose)?