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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.

Ethics teacher

Thanks Sam. I would love to introduce that ethics bowl concept in my class. I know what the ethics bowl is and have judged on it, but would you mind saying more on how you adapt it to the classroom setting?

Sam Duncan

Ethics teacher,

Sorry for the slow reply. I don't really do too much. I group the class off into groups of about 4-6 and give them the schedule and the cases they will be responsible for a few weeks in advance. We do two cases each time and they know they'll get one case and comment on the other. We do one ethics bowl a class. For cases, I just choose cases from the high school and collegiate ethics bowls. Since some of my students have pretty tight schedules I usually devote one class to prep. They can prep their responses to the cases I also used one of their scoresheets for years but recently have adapted it to change the weights of the categories. I give the class score sheets and give the students grade based on the class average averaged with mine with mine getting 60% weight and the class 40%. In the "judge's questions" part I let the whole class ask questions for ten minutes. That's the outline anyway. Any questions about details?

Sam Duncan

Ethics teacher,

I realize that's a bit short. Feel free to get in touch with me (sld24688@email.vccs.edu) if you want to talk about this more. We can chat via phone or Zoom too. Honestly though, I don't depart too much from the format of the normal high school or college ethics bowl except in giving them the cases in advance.

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