The third class I observed to round out my sampling of different class types and teaching styles was Nature and American Values, taught by Bruce Hull. This course is a large-ish (100+) lower-level lecture, so mostly consisting of underclassmen. Hull sent me the course syllabus when I contacted him about shadowing the class, so I was able to pick which day I wanted to come based on the scheduled topics (I chose animal and hunting rights!). As obnoxious and over-achieving as this sounds, I am a little bummed that I am only observing these professors for one class each (yes, I could do more, but I also think that finishing my dissertation one day would be cool). For example, Hull divides the course into two parts: the first half of the semester is the standard lecture, but after spring break, there is a final exam and then no scheduled classes. Instead, the students have semester-long group projects, so final presentations and debates take the place of classes during this time. Students must attend their group presentation, obviously, and then review a few of the other presentations. Otherwise, they do not have to come to class. I would be curious to see a couple of the presentations, especially since this format is fairly non-traditional for such a large class. In any case, definitely a good reminder that your courses can deviate from the norm.
Because this lecture is much larger than the dendrology lab with Seiler or the upper-level class with Aust, there tends to be a little more PowerPoint and a little less interaction—I cannot really think of another way to manage 125 people that does not involve chaos. However, I was surprised by how intimate the class felt. Hull walks around during the lecture from one side of the room to the other instead of remaining behind the podium. I remember hearing that you should not hide behind a desk or computer while teaching, but watching Hull made me realize how moving around the space can really make the students feel more connected to the instructor. I noticed that both Hull and Aust pause fairly often to allow sufficient time for students to think of questions or discussion points. I tend to be impatient and do not always wait that long for students to ask something before moving on, even though I know first-hand as a student that it sometimes takes a while (or might be intimidating) to formulate a response to a question or think of a comment to share. Hull also managed to incorporate a fair amount of discussion, despite the class size. He would talk for a few minutes, reviewing some material, maybe tell a story, and then he would show a picture or video (PETA videos were in order this particular day following the animal rights theme) and pose an open-ended question to the class. A full-blown discussion would not ensue, but a few students would raise their hands and comment on the prompts. Hull also encouraged them to use the terminology and concepts they had learned so as to provide some structure to their responses. I really become annoyed when discussion is totally free-form with no sort of guide for the students; I know some pedagogical scholars somewhere probably think this tactic is brilliant, but I find that it turns into useless commentary and leaves me feeling that I am not learning anything (because it is just a bunch of students that do not really know what they are supposed to be thinking or talking about, being forced to think and talk about stuff). That is to say, I think Hull did a great job in this regard. Overall, shadowing this class got me thinking about alternative strategies in a larger lecture class. As I said, PowerPoint and a fair bit of the instructor talking are inevitable (and probably best with that many people), but there are other possible formats as well as ways to create some interaction.