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10/13/2012

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Mark Alfano

It's very hard to plan these in advance, as you are usually assigned a topic by the search committee. Last season, I did a teaching demo on ethics and social philosophy based on chapter 8 of a book written by a member of the search committee, who was also the most senior member of the department and the normal teacher for that class. Hard to plan that in advance.

Overall, though, I'd say there are certain desiderata that you can identify in advance, including:
1) Get the students actively involved
2) Look prepared
3) Employ structure
4) Appear enthusiastic

These are all things you want to do in regular teaching, too, of course, but I think they're especially important in a teaching demo. Getting the students involved and appearing enthusiastic yourself leaves the impression that you will attract majors to the department. Looking prepared shows that you're not just flashy; you know what you're doing and talking about. Employing structure ensures that the students will remember at least one thing from your teaching demo.

How to accomplish these rather abstractly-described desiderata? Well, you can get the students involved by starting class with a short, ungraded bit of writing. Get them to fill in a handout. Or get them to answer some "poll" type questions. Then get them to raise their hands if they said X or ~X, so they can see the diversity of opinions in the class. If you ask them to think and talk simultaneously, you get less participation and worse thinking than if you ask them to think first, then talk. Having a handout like that also helps you look structured. Putting a broad outline of items to be discussed in class on the board also helps.

I'm sure others have ideas about how to go about this, too....

David Morrow

Personally, I would suggest that you not start with writing -- start with a somewhat interactive mini-lecture. This has two major advantages, in my view: It puts the students at ease before they have to write down and share their ideas, and it gives you more control over the first impression you make as a teacher.

Once you've earned the students' trust, however, something more interactive is good. As Mark says, having them write things down before they speak is probably helpful. Try to learn their names as they speak, even if you know you'll fail at it. And have a back-up plan in place if they don't speak up or participate in the way you're used to. Now that I know my students at UAB, I realize how lucky I was to get a class of unusually talkative students during my teaching demonstration here. If the class hadn't spoken up, I would have bombed because I didn't have enough material to get through the class if they weren't contributing.

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