Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I love bluetooth.

Not that I ever use it. To the best of my knowledge, none of the gizmos, gadgets, doodads or thingamabobs in my house are equipped with such service, though for all I know they might. My computer has a wireless mouse, and there is a little note in the back of my mind that says, "That's a bluetooth device, no matter how you deny it," so perhaps I do use it without really knowing. To be honest, I've nearly replaced that mouse with something wired about once a week since I bought it - it sucks down batteries as if they were Fourth of July beers, and at random moments it decides that the cursor is best left right where it is rather than where I want it to go, which seems to me contrary to the purpose of both cursor and mouse - but it has this snazzy little feature where you can magnify the screen just by brushing your finger across the mouse, so I haven't. Yet. Someday, though.

No, the reason I love bluetooth is simple. I tell stories for a living.

The dirty little secret about university teaching is that nobody ever trains you to do it - you just go and do. I first stepped in front of a class in 1989, and the sum total of my training for that moment consisted of another graduate student saying to me as I walked into the room, "Remember, Dave, anything you tell them is news." If you've ever had a good teacher at a university, it's because that person took it upon himself or herself to become one. It's not something stressed and it's certainly not something rewarded in most colleges. But there you have it. This is one of the reasons I like teaching at Home Campus, which does put more emphasis on teaching skills than most places.

There's this bizarre assumption in academia that if you know a lot about a subject then you can teach it, which is why world-class scholars are tossed in front of students (usually graduate students by the time they're world-class scholars, though undergraduates are similarly favored when such scholars are on their way up). Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn't, and how good of a scholar that person is is largely irrelevant.

This assumption is not limited to academia, by the way. I've sat in on enough training sessions given by business professionals to know in the very marrow of my bones how rare it is to be a good teacher in any setting. Quite possibly the longest three hours of my life were spent listening to a kind and generous man try to explain something he knew a great deal about to a room full of strangers. He knew the subject, but he didn't know how to teach.

What makes this even stranger is that there is no shortage of pedagogical models to choose from when it comes to teaching, particularly at the university level. Everyone has their favorite, and fashions come in and out like the tides. The push to add technology to everything seems to be slowing down a bit, for example, as people begin to realize that taking a mess and adding technology to it just gives you an automated mess. For a while everything was supposed to be "student-centered learning," to which my response was, "As opposed to what?"

Me, I like the old-fashioned "sage-on-the-stage" model, wherein you get up in front of the class and tell them what they need to know. History lends itself to this approach, really. It's simple, it's straight-forward, and it plays to my strength. I tell stories for a living. People tell me I'm good at it.

When all you have to sell is a story, you'd better get your transitions right.

So I practice. I practice at home, everywhere from my office to the shower. I practice at school. And perhaps most of all, I practice in the car, because there is nowhere on earth better suited for that sort of thing than the inside of a car. It's like they designed it that way. I don't know how teachers who ride the bus to work can handle it. When do they practice?

Now it used to be that when I was working on my lectures in the car, people would pull up alongside and stare at me with that look that said, "There's somebody who has forgotten his meds." But now?

Now everyone assumes I'm in the middle of a phone call.

I love bluetooth.

1 comment:

KimK said...

Ah, yes, Bluetooth as camouflage. But doesn't excuse one from needing one's meds, however!
In Sweden I learned that talking to oneself in public or private was normal. Hooray for Swedish culture!