Off the cuff

I’m not sure how most folks go about lecturing. In my experience so far as a professor, I mostly work in my own little kingdom (Queendom?) that is my office and my interactions with my peers tend to be more focused on service activities or research. That is to say, when I prep my lectures it is a very isolated activity.

Sure, I’ve been given syllabi and course materials from others over the years. A truly invaluable resource. But I have never really witnessed another person preparing these materials, so I’m left wondering a bit how most folks approach the task.

I personally have never been able to use another set of slides/powerpoint without at least tweaking it to my own style. I would save myself a lot of time if I could!

In the beginning, 2 short years ago, when I was but a baby professor, I would spend quite a bit of time with the textbook open, powerpoint humming on one side of the screen, and word glowing on the other. I would put together my powerpoint slides and also write the dialog I planned to say to the class. Then, after the initial draft, I would run through the roughly completed slides and practice the “talk,” as it were. I’d make any edits as necessary and then be ready to roll.

This was a slow and tedious process.

By about week 7 of my first quarter I dropped the practice round. The rough draft had to do.

By my second quarter, I often did not write out the dialog. It was more notes for the items I felt less familiar with, just in case I forgot when 60 pairs of eyes were staring at me.

Now that I’m starting my third year, things are a bit different. I seldom reference the textbook. I’m revising my own slides, so the process is decidedly less tedious as the version I’m starting with is rather close to where it ends up. And I no longer type up or practice a dialog. In fact, I often lecture a bit…off the cuff.

While my slides are prepped, what I actually say isn’t planned. Shocking, I know.

Perhaps an important point of clarification: my slides tend to be about 98% or more images. VERY little text. So the bullet points and notes one would take are synthesized in the moment as I alternate speaking and writing key points on the whiteboard. This gets me into some trouble sometimes in my survey course when the topics wonder far from my wheel house, but in my upper divisional courses that are focused on my specialty? I feel like magic happens.

I was lecturing this past week and a student asked a great (though tangential) question and I was able to incorporate that in quite seamlessly. I love that! And as I was going I realized that I know a lot about my subject! It kind of became an exercise in self-confidence-building.

Which got me wondering how other folks tend to approach their lecture prep. Do most people similarly go “off the cuff”? Or do they generally have a “talk” they’ve practiced or planned?

Curious minds want to know.


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