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05/12/2022

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Trevor Hedberg

Excellent post, Sam -- I think the most important general point (which I will add to 7 Years Later somewhere) is that time-saving teaching methods can sometimes also lead to better teaching. You illustrate this with some clear examples that may certainly be worth incorporating into some readers' courses.

But even beyond using time-saving techniques, I think the more banal observation that increased prep time does not automatically lead to better teaching is also important. Some graduate students may think that prepping for their courses 20 hours a week will make their lectures, discussions, etc., better than if they only prepped for 10 hours a week. That doesn't follow: prep time usually follows a principle of diminishing returns. A few hours of prep will be loads better than none, but prep past 15 hours might well make no difference at all to the quality of your instruction.

Sam Duncan

Trevor,
I'd go even further and say that too much preparation can actually lead to worse teaching. When I was first starting out teaching I would prep like crazy and still end up running out of things to say on average 10 minutes early every meeting in 75 minute classes. And this from like 8 pages of outline notes sometimes. Beyond that students just wouldn't get the important points and these were often 3rd and 4th year students at UVA, who had better learning skills than most students one will likely teach. I now realize that my lectures were just incredibly overstuffed with information because every bit of prep added more information to the lecture. That meant that I went way too quickly and that and that students had a hard time sorting out the important information from the "cool to know but not vital" information, which is why they didn't get the important stuff as often as I'd have expected. This also hampered discussion since they often couldn't figure out what to latch onto. I put a lot less into my lectures these days-- generally about four pages in outline notes for a 75 minute course-- but almost always go to time or even end with things still to say. One other important point: In teaching prep as with writing you reach a point where cutting the fat is more important than adding any more content.

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