I believe that students excel when they enjoy their learning experiences. To facilitate this I strive to reach students in groups and as individuals by sharing knowledge, techniques, and ideas during collaborative processes. When I sense that a genuine connection has been made in this way, the teaching process becomes more enjoyable. Creating an environment that excludes no one is essential. I believe that trust needs to be earned and connections need to be made in order for students to be willing to participate.
Each new group of students require a distinct approach. It can take several sessions before the atmosphere congeals. An underlying foundation of curriculum with carefully organized content and detailed project requirements is critical to my approach, but it is also important for me to be flexible when necessary. This might mean introducing new challenges to the curriculum, or making adjustments when more learning or research within a specific area is important.
If a group of students doesn’t respond well to a lecture or discussion I might switch to a demonstration while interspersing key concepts from the lecture. I also combine the use of visual aids, sound, written materials, and discussion. For example, to introduce microphones I draw diagrams while discussing their properties. Microphones are passed around the room for students to look at and hold. Next we view images of microphone internals. Finally we record with several mics to hear how they capture sound differently from each other. A related project and reading materials are assigned to cover more details.
Because the content of many of my classes is highly technical it is crucial for students to review in-class demonstrations. I use screen recording software to document each demo. Students can review the videos when they have difficulty implementing a particular technique. Since I started providing this resource I have received a lot of positive feedback from students. Pausing, rewinding, or skipping sections within the videos allow students to efficiently solve difficult problems. These videos do not replace in class activities and discussions. One cannot ask a question or make a suggestion while watching a video. Nor do they provide a substitute for one-on-one interaction. These videos are a valuable resource, but in-class interactions may lead to synthesizing new ideas altogether.
Improvisation is another way I engage students. This does not mean inventing class content on the spot. As a musician I know that in order to improvise effectively, many years of practice and preparation is necessary. The same is true in the classroom. It is the delivery of the content that is improvised, not the content itself. I may let discussions meander, and entertain tangents. This might seem chaotic and unmanageable. However, I relish these moments because of the ideas that arise, and enjoy the process of steering concepts that are spawned this way toward the tasks at hand. I see students succeeding as the energy that saturates these sessions is channeled into viable ideas and highly developed work.