Explicit Expectations when Teaching

by Hazard1 min read4th Feb 20186 comments

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Epistemic Status: Casual thoughts on small ways to improve teaching flows.

In the lectures for my current classes, things don't always make sense. Sometimes the not making sense comes from a feeling of incompleteness. The definition seems incomplete. I notice that I don't have enough info to fully explain the concept.

Generally I've noticed two reasons for this. This first is that there was some assumed prior knowledge. Sometimes that can be explicit. Maybe I was supposed to know multivariate calculus for this course, yet there was some concept I missed that is being used here. Other times the assumption of prior knowledge is implicit. This is when the professor didn't realize that there was something to explain (i.e unaware of inferential distance).

In these cases, the best route is to ask a question.

In other cases, the professor purposefully gave an incomplete explanation, which they proceed to expand on in the following slide.

In this case, the best route is to put a mental astericks next to new concept and hold tight.

A problem arises from the fact that almost all of the professors I've had (and most people just trying to casually teach me something) talk in a way where I can't distinguish what is assumped prior knowledge and what is a placeholder to be filled in later. This leads to wasted movement. I might ask a lot of questions that get "Hold on for two minutes" as a reply, or I might never explore an idea myself because I figure it will be explained at some point. I think that being explicit can make it much easier for one trying to learn.

In conversation, I can imagine a simple habit of tagging a word or concept with a mental astericks and making clear that you currently are presenting a "working explanation". Something like "A linear seperator divides n-dimensional space in to two region. We'll circle back to how it does that in a sec."

If you teach in any sort of formal setting and use visual aids, it could be worthwhile to introduce a convention like, "Things I'm going to explain later will be highlighted in blue, things that you are expected to know are highlighted in green."

If anyone tries this out in a formal setting, let me know if it had any effect.

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