No Rest For The Weary

Starting a podcast…

Clearly, as the rate of posts here indicates, I’ve been pretty busy this semester.  Both of my classes this semester were courses I’ve taught before, but I had two of each for a total of four courses, with a combined 115 students.  Don’t get me wrong, it went fine and all of my grades were turned in on time this past Tuesday, but it got pretty busy, especially after Spring Break.

Good thing I’m off for Summer Vacation now, right?  Wrong!  In all honesty, I’m kinda excited because I’ll be teaching two classes in the online setting for the first time.  It’s new territory for me, as I’ve never taught a class in this way before, let alone two, so the learning curve could get the best of me, but I’m hopeful I can push them across the finish line by the time the classes are over in July.

Basically, back in the Fall, some of my students asked if I could teach Pathophysiology over the Summer semester.  It’s a class I’d taught before, but this time, it would be out of a different department and with a different course number and a different textbook, so it isn’t exactly the same (but, effectively, it’s the same class).  I was interested in doing it anyway, but the rub was that I’d have to do it in the online setting.  In some ways, it was “win/win” because I could still be flexible with staying home over the Summer with Meg, but I’d also get to keep busy and try something new with my courses, some things I could potentially wrap back around into my lectures for the Fall.  As of today, I’ve got 17 people enrolled in that class.

Earlier this semester, I was having conversations with “The Powers That Be” on campus about how many people are in my A&P courses (hint: it’s a lot) and they mentioned how it would be nice to get a fully online version of A&P I built to help transition students from the career center setting in nearby counties over to our nursing program.  This online A&P course could be completed by interested students and, assuming it was completed along with other prerequisites, they could enroll in our nursing program without having set foot on our campus before.

This presented a different challenge, as there’s a laboratory component involved.  I think I’ve solved that issue with a distance learning laboratory kit that we’ve contracted out from a supplier, but it’ll be interesting to see how the lab side of things works out compared with what I normally do during the Fall and Spring semesters.

Right now, I’ve got 15 people enrolled in that class, as well.

The thing I’m working on right now (aside from posting this…) is recording all of my lectures and getting them hosted on YouTube.  There are multiple ways to handle an online class and it really depends on a). the strengths (or weaknesses) of the instructor and b). what kind of material is being discussed in said lecture.  In my case, I’m no stranger to technology, so I picked up a USB microphone for $20 and grabbed Brooke’s sewing lamp from home in order to create a make-shift recording studio.  I’m also using Screencastify,  software built in to Chrome that lets me insert my voice and video in one of the four corners of my lecture slides and records the tab in Chrome into a video format stored on Google Drive.  From there, I can download it and edit it (to a very limited degree…), and then post it to YouTube in a Private listing so I don’t have everyone on the planet viewing it (and getting lovely YouTube comments about how little hair I have).

I’ve got hours of this…hours, I tell you…

Thus far, the lecturing has been working pretty well, I think.  I’m recording each lecture in 30-40 minute chunks and I started with A&P I material, as that’s what I’ve most recently done and, consequently, can get more “comfortable with the camera” as I have more confidence with those lectures.  I’ll get started on recording my Pathophysiology lectures next week, but after I get done with those, I’ve still got quite a few lecture slides to write in order to finish out the semester.

Luckily, Meg still has another week of school…  I’ve got my work cut out for me…

“Just Imagine The Audience Naked”

I don’t advise doing this, yet it is a common option for those with a fear of speech delivery.

Public speaking has never been something I considered to be a “strong suit” of mine.  There were things I did well growing up, and speaking in front of an audience certainly wasn’t one of them.  In high school, I hated answering questions in class.  I hated delivering speeches.  I didn’t like being singled out in front of the class.  Basically, I feared anything that would put me up in front of a group of my peers, or adults, and I avoided it like the plague.

With that in mind, I wanted to write up a blurb about my lectures last week and wanted to talk about them from the public speaking angle, so I checked into when it was that I last even mentioned “public speaking” on the blog.  Low and behold, I find that it was in a post dated January 8, 2006.  At the time, I was lamenting the fact that I had to deliver a presentation for the biomedical sciences program at SLU, in an event called a Colloquium.  As a graduate student at SLU, in the CORE biomedical sciences program, during your second semester in the program, you needed to pick an academic paper, research it, and present it in front of the rest of the people in the program, including four separate departments.  Usually, this group would involve other students and professors, typically never going above 50 people, but frequently only featuring 20+ people in attendance.  The scary part, of course, is that you were presenting this information in front of professors and they could ask you questions.

Tough questions.  Questions you knew you couldn’t answer, even though they thought you could, or should.

Unfortunately, looking back on that particular presentation, it wasn’t very pretty.  I had chosen a pretty boring paper and I didn’t present it well.  However, as a second-year in the program, you have to do another Colloquium presentation, in front of the same group, but by then you have a bit more knowledge and experience under your belt.  My second one was far better.

Over the intervening years (five of them…eeeeesh…), I  had quite a few opportunities to brush up on my public speaking skills.  I had to present papers in front of our department at SLU – a smaller group (up to 20), yet still including students and professors, still entirely capable of tearing you apart with their questions, making you look like an idiot.  Usually, I would over-prepare for these presentations, running through the talk over and over and over again for at least a week prior to its delivery.  And normally, the talks would go just fine.  Still nervous, though.

Looking back on a life of speaking opportunities, I can come up with a few instances when I wasn’t nervous.  One was Boy Scouts.  Another was teaching the undergrads at SLU in a non-major biology course we, the graduate students, ran.  And, most recently, to graduate students here at Iowa and Pharm.D. students last week.

The common thread that I find in these examples is somewhat cliche, but nonetheless important: confidence.  What I found was that, over the years, I was getting better at choosing when it was appropriate for me to speak in front of a group, and usually, it was appropriate when I felt like I knew more about the subject than the other people in the room did.  In the case of teaching undergrads at SLU, I was telling them about depressants and other neurological drugs.  This wasn’t a problem for me, as I knew deep down that there was no one in that room that knew more about the subject.  I would be able to answer any question they threw at me, and if I didn’t know the answer, I could fashion something workable and then get back to them with more details later. Even delivering my dissertation defense to complete the Ph.D., I was talking about the work I had done for 4+ years at SLU, and since I was the one that did the work, I was the most knowledgeable person in the room to talk about it.  The professors could ask me any question they wanted: I was in full control.

Which brings us to last week, when I spoke in front of, perhaps, the largest group I’ve ever had to: ~110 students.  These were pharmacy students here at the University of Iowa and I was talking to them about biotechnology.  Now, I am not well-versed in biotechnology, but it is material I’ve been taught before…years before…  Therefore, I was and still am no expert in the subject.  However, I still knew, deep down, that I knew more about it than they did, and I was imparting that knowledge to them in the most understandable way I could.  As usual, I still practiced the talks for over a week in advance, re-tooled various slides to ensure that they made sense.  I delivered the lectures, answered questions, and all the while, I didn’t get nervous.

So it may have taken 25+ years, but I think figured out public speaking.  It really doesn’t scare me anymore, at least not to the extent that it used to.  I still have to be somewhat choosy about the times where I want to put myself up in front of a group like that to talk about a subject, but at the very least, I think I have a system that I can work with.

Somewhat important if I plan on being a college-level teacher someday…

…when I grow up…  🙂