Wednesday, November 20, 2013

tonight's mini-conference presentation: review

Whew—glad that's over. The presenter before me was excellent, so I had a tough act to follow. While I won't say that I was raked over the coals, I did come away feeling as if someone had taken a hairbrush and combed my scalp pretty violently. I didn't present the conventional way, which caused some antsiness; I went the experiential route and put my twelve listeners through the round-robin method (they had to teach each other some basics about Buddhism—its metaphysics, its praxis, its anthropology,* its major concepts/doctrines). As I hoped for, this had the effect of making the audience's questions more focused than they might otherwise have been, because the questions were now rooted in experience.

Some folks admitted feeling confused at the beginning of the round robin; one person questioned the value of using this approach more than infrequently because he found the three-round format boring. Others thought that, because a given team will teach its lesson three times, the team might learn its own material very well, but wouldn't internalize the information coming (only once) from the other three teams. I responded to that critique by noting that the English textbook we use contains plenty of interlocking, mutually reinforcing information: the eight sections in a given chapter repeat grammatical structures, vocabulary, and expressions, which means the students are always reinforcing each other's learning.

On the more positive side, some colleagues said my method was great for getting the students talking for an extended period of time while minimizing the professor's role in the classroom. Other colleagues agreed that the students doing this method would remain on task and energized. Another person liked the way my format kept the students physically moving. Yet another commented that he uses similar student-centered strategies in his classes. One gentleman liked my method enough to say that he planned to implement it, to some degree, in the coming semesters. I naturally had more sympathy for these observations than I had for the complaints and criticisms.

But I did find most of the criticisms useful. No one was overly vicious; most of the questions I heard, even the ones that made me squirm, were perfectly legitimate. Dr. Hodges returns often to the notion that the West cultivates a culture of discussion and critique: you can't seriously expect to enter a room full of academics and hear only blind praise. And when it comes to critiques, I keep my own counsel: I possess a strong enough sense of what I consider right and wrong, pedagogically speaking, to weather complaints; this sense allows me to evaluate or dismiss any criticism that comes my way. So I'll respectfully consider much of what I heard tonight, but I'll also respectfully disagree with some of the criticism that I thought was wrongheaded.

That said, it was a tiring experience, and I was operating on only two hours' sleep. So I'm going to sign off and, very likely, go to bed early.

*By anthropology, I mean Buddhism's take on the human condition.


1 comment:

Charles said...

Glad to hear you survived.