Friday, July 21, 2017

Teaching and Ramen Noodles

Seeing the title of this post might make you think that it's about teachers' compensation packages. While that is definitely a topic we should discuss sometime, that's not the point of this post.

Instead, a story in contrasts, and a thought I had in response to it.

Earlier this summer, my wife and were vacationing in Hawaii. (Yes, it was fantastic.) We enjoyed every part of it, including the food. Near our hotel, there was an area where there were many food trucks parked, and we had lunch there a couple of times, trying different cuisines offered through the window of a mobile kitchen.

Here was my favorite:

When the signs on the truck are in both Japanese and English, it's a good omen.

I love ramen. In college, I supplemented my dining hall diet with a steady stream of sodium-rich instant noodles, because this was one of the few things I could make in my dorm room with my hot pot. After graduation, I stopped eating instant ramen noodles, for the most part because of my wife's caring concern, reminding me that while tasty, they really aren't that great for me. Convenient? Yes. Healthy? Well...not so much.

But this was real-deal ramen, right? I mean, look at this:

Mmmmm... Shoyu Ramen...
This is a far cry from the hot pot instant noodles I used to eat in my dorm. Meat, vegetables, egg...and of course the noodles are way better than the instant ones, and the broth doesn't even compare. This is a real meal!

It's funny, because after we got home, I found myself craving ramen again, which I really hadn't for quite a few years. But I got a couple of cups of noodles, and I've been having them for lunch every once in a while...

Mmmm... Instant Lunch... (Is that vaguely troubling?)
Now, there really isn't any comparison between these two ramen meals. I suppose they both include noodles, and broth, and are Japanese in origin. But "instant lunch" is a pale reflection of the real deal. It's close enough to do in a pinch, but it really just makes me long for the real stuff.

How does this all relate to teaching?

Well, I've been thinking about the role of lecture in teaching. Perhaps it's because I currently teach in higher education, where lecture is a dominant teaching method? And I think we can make a connection between my ramen experiences and different kinds of teaching.

This thought has been percolating for me since receiving my course evaluations from the Spring semester. One of my students anonymously commented: "You often say that you are not going to lecture so much, and then you end up lecturing anyway. I actually really enjoy your lectures a lot! So I sometimes wonder why you don't just 'own it' that you lecture a decent amount? Just a thought!"

That had me reflecting...because I've been kind of down on "lecture" as a teaching method. I want my classes to be more than just transmission of information--which lecture often feels like to me.

Some time ago, I was on a kick making a bunch of snarky graphics at about teaching. Here's one that relates to my wondering about the value of lecture:

Thanks, someecards, for making this snark possible.

Here's the thing: I do like visual aids when I'm listening to a lecture. And PowerPoint has potential for this. But how often does a lecture with PowerPoint slides end up not really being a true lecture, but rather the "presenter" becoming a "bullet point reader." And those listening to the lecture...are they really engaging with the material? Or are they just copying things down verbatim that they see popping up onscreen?

Why have I been so down on lecture as a methodology? I've realized that it's because it's too easy for PowerPoint and other presentation tools to become a crutch that prop up shoddy teaching, and shallow learning. This sort of teaching might be described as the "instant lunch" version of the ramen I loved on vacation. It has the basic similarity to the real deal, but it's an imitation.

So, what if we (I) commit to reclaiming lecture--real lecture--as a methodology? Not that I'm going to stop using all of the other methods in my teaching toolbox as well...but I'm not going to apologize for lecturing anymore. But--and here's the kicker for me--if I'm going to lecture, it's going to be a real lecture, a real presentation of ideas, and use my visual aids for just that...visual aids. If all I'm doing is reading bullet points so students can transcribe them, I might as well just print them off and hand them to the students. (There will be fewer errors that way!)

I've landed at a place where I think that lecturing is okay, and can be effective, and I'm going to own the fact that I'm going to lecture sometimes, and I'm going to do the best I can to make this an engaging, interactive experience for my students. (Thanks, anonymous student for challenging me to reflect!)

If I'm serving ramen, I'm going to make sure it isn't "instant lunch!"

1 comment:

  1. Dave, I couldn't agree more. I too had swung my pendulum so far away from lecturing from the front that I didn't do it any more. And yet it can be, when do well, a powerful tool for learning.