23 September 2014

Teaching is nigh

When I accepted my current job I pretty much knew that the first term of the new academic year would be devoured by teaching. I was glad I had some of the summer to prepare! But summers rush past like nothing on Earth and before I knew it, I was less than two weeks away from my first lecture. And that's fairly nerve racking.

It's not even the lecturing itself that I am worried about. It is a humongous job; in this first term (September-December) I have to give 10 lectures on glaciology, 3 on shelf seas, and one on sea level change. In addition I have to do one day in the field with the students, do a practical with them in which they process the data they gathered in Laugharne, and assist with the Palaeoceanography practicals and students' presentations. And that is a lot.

 That will be me!

I now have to teach more glaciology than I myself ever had. I have to do a lot of reading up on it! And the shelf sea lectures are a lot more specific than the work I have so far done on such environments. The sea level lecture isn't so bad, but even on a topic you're familiar with, you need preparation to talk about it for an hour, in a well-illustrated and well-documented way. And I was there when the Laugharne data was gathered, but that doesn't mean I knew the software the students would be using, what data format that software required, and more of such things. And the fieldwork; half of it takes place somewhere I haven't been, doing measurements I've never taken. I have a lot of prep to do on that too.

But what worries me more is all the admin that surrounds it. This is 2014; you can't just rock up, give some lectures, and have the students do an exam at the end of it. No! In advance you have to make all your lectures available to the students online, and you have to also tell them online how you will assess them, when all the deadlines are, how things will be marked, and how they will be receiving feedback. And I'm already a bit confused by this new environment (it's easier to start teaching at your Alma Mater - then you have some idea of how things work!), but all this online business is new to me. I'm old! When I was a student myself the lecturers used overhead projectors. You got your grades on a piece of paper on a noticeboard. How these were generated was something you were just told. And it's rather daunting if you suddenly have to make decisions on deadlines and assessments if you have no idea why things are the way they are. 

I don't think I'll see an actual blackboard during any of the lectures, but Blackboard (TM) is ubiquitous!

I have help, of course. The woman who taught all of this last year now lives in Canada, but she does reply to email. And it used to be James' teaching, and he's around, but he has so much on his plate I try not to bother him too much. And it matters I get things right; the students pay £9000 a year, and it's bad enough they have to learn their glaciology from a non-glaciologist (as well-meaning as I may be), but if I accidentally refrain from putting some crucial information online because I didn't know I was supposed to, I'm sure the complaints will be flying in left, right and centre. And I would like to avoid that! So the time has come to work weekends and evenings. I'm not sure for how long. Very long, I suppose, as by the time the worst of the teaching has passed I will have a backlog in my research! But that's life as an academic. It's not that I condone that this is the norm; it would be better for everyone if both teaching and research would not be performed under such time pressure. But hey ho. Let's just jump in and hope I swim instead of sink. Wish me luck!

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