This past week, I had the privilege to teach a series of three lectures entitled "Short Course in Network Neuroscience" to a diverse audience of neurologists, psychologists, medical students, and neuroscientists at the 1st Sleep Science Winter School in Switzerland (by the way, this is a yearly event and I highly recommend it). My teaching style is perhaps best described as "interactive" and "whiteboard instead of slides." Today, I would like to share with you some of my experiences and observations of what happens if we stop lecturing but instead start building a dialog with the people who we are asked to teach. I have structured it as a Q&A - hope you will enjoy this.
Q: Isn't it nerve wracking to stand in front of an audience without the emotional safety of slides?
A: Yes, it is. Though, with practice the fears subside since they are unfounded. The reward of excited students who are engaged in the discussion is worth the price of being perhaps nervous when you first start teaching like that.
Q: What do you do to get students to engage?
A: I often start my lectures with a little funny, self-deprecating story about myself to make sure that nobody forgets that we are all just humans with all the baggage we have as humans but that we have come together to teach and learn since we are passionate about the content. I also openly acknowledge that my teaching style is a bit different and that it takes time to get used to.
Q: What do you do if you have one participant who engages "too much"?
A: There is often one person who is eagerly engaged (for whatever reason, does not matter). In principle this is great but if it becomes too much it unfairly reduces the learning and participation opportunities of the other students. I thus usually say something along the lines of "Thank you very much for all your contributions. I am delighted to have you be so engaged. I am sure you understand that I would like to make sure that others also get the chance to participate so for the next question I would like somebody else to answer."
Q: What if through dialog you get to a point where you as the teacher do not know the answer?
A: Very simple. I often say something along the lines of "Great question. This is well beyond of what I wanted to focus on today and in fact I need to think myself what the best/correct answer is. Are you cool with us revisiting this after the lecture?"
Q: With slides I can communicate so much more material per unit of time. So I use slides!
A: Fair point. But then, are you sure your "communication" actually reaches your audience? Also, I find that our main responsibility is to teach how to reason through problems and questions. The interactive teaching style works really well for this because students are engaged (better learning, you know, acetylcholine and all that) and can model after you how you reason through a question.
Q: Is your teaching style in essence the Socratic method?
A: In some ways, as I am trying to find the limits of existing knowledge to build on that. In some way no since I never insist with a single student and I always make sure it is not stressful but rather very rewarding to participate and engage during my lectures.
Q: I am curious to experience your teaching style.
A: Come and join us for the tACS/tDCS workshop at the Carolina Neurostimulation Conference. You will see me in action. I am looking forward to meeting you there.