So you’ve been asked to give your first lecture or seminar? Apart from preparing the slides and/or activities, what else do you need to think about in order to ensure it goes well? Here are some tips:
1) Should you say yes?
The answer is probably yes as it will be good experience for the CV but it can’t hurt to ask questions first so that you know what you are taking on. It also shows that you are not someone who will say yes to anything which may help to stop you getting “dumped on”. The kind of questions you can ask are “is it a brand new session or are there notes from the person who taught it before?” If there are notes this may save you some time, but you could still re-write them to suit your delivery style or to bring them up to date. Try and find out as much as you can before you say yes so that you can assess how much time the work is going to take you. It is also worth asking why you have been given the session so you have all the facts at hand when making the decision.
2) Check out the room beforehand
It may sound silly but make sure you find out which room you will be teaching in and test the equipment if you can. Some rooms will have IT that takes ages to set up and if you know this in advance you may occasionally be able to solve it by logging in once before the day. If you can’t do this then try to turn up early or think of something for the students to do while you are setting up. Knowing which room you are in will also mean you can see what other equipment there is and what the temperature in the room is like (so you can decide what to wear!).
3) Find out what the students know already
It is quite annoying to be taught something you already know in the same way but can be helpful to revisit a topic in a slightly different context or to have a recap and an informal test on something that you have been taught before. Importantly, finding out what the students have been taught previously will help you to pitch your session at the right level whichever strategy you use.
4) What are their expectations?
This is a really important one! What support material are the students expecting? Do they normally get the slides online a couple of days before? Do they normally get given handouts in the session? Are they used to recording sessions and are you happy to be recorded (if not, explain nicely why not, but remember that some students require hearing aids in lectures)? If you can talk to a colleague and find out what expectations the group will have or what the standard procedures are, you will be able to start out on an excellent footing and avoid problems before the session starts.
5) Observe other colleagues teaching
Before you do your first session, sit in on a few lectures or seminars and get a feel for the kind of activities that students most engage in. You can also think about what you found engaging when being taught yourself. Remember that different people have different learning styles and engagement can vary with the time of day, so it is a good idea to vary the things you do in the session.
6) Get feedback
This might be from the students or you might want to ask a trusted colleague to come and observe you. You may not want to do this in your first session but it is worth doing it relatively early on. Make sure you pick someone who you know will give you some constructive feedback. If asking the students, think about what you want feedback on and ask a small number of specific questions about these areas.
It is also worth finding out if your institution offers training or mentoring in teaching – most do and it can be really useful.