Chalk and Talk
Several years ago a fellow HVAC instructor told me he had been strongly encouraged by his immediate supervisor to do more lecturing. To the academically trained supervisor, working with students in the lab didn’t look like teaching, it looked like training. In the supervisor’s mind, training was a lower level pursuit – akin to monkey see monkey do. The school had just transitioned from a Technical School to a Technical Collage and they wanted to look like a college.
The instructor was asking for any help I could offer, especially along the lines of “chalk and talk”, his description of what he felt was being asked of him. I think that phrase perfectly embodies why so many students really don’t get a lot out of lectures – they are just observers, not participants. The instructor is writing stuff on the board and talking while the students are just passive observers. In the days of chalk boards, the instructor was not even facing the class when they were writing. It sometimes seemed like the teacher was engrossed in their own thoughts while they stare at the board and talk to no one in particular.
We have advanced a bit since then. At least with Powerpoint presentations we are usually facing the class, even if we are staring at our computer monitor most of the time. However, it is possible to lecture and still rise above the mind-numbing norm of a monologue delivered to a captive audience of passive observers.
Begin by facing your audience and making eye contact with people long enough so they feel you are speaking to them personally. If you are using a Powerpoint presentation, be familiar enough with the presentation and the material that you don’t have to read the notes while looking at the screen. It is OK to look at the screen occasionally, but if your discussion is just straight out reading the notes it will be boring no matter how good the presentation is.
Use voice inflection and hand motion to convey personal interest in your subject matter. How do you expect your class to maintain interest if YOU think the talk is boring.
Stop and take a breath. One dead give away of a nervous speaker is someone who has rehearsed their speech so much that all the words come out in a rapid-fire regurgitation that indicates they are just repeating memorized phrases, not really thinking about they are saying.
Whenever possible, involve your audience. People learn more if they do more. Ways to involve the class could include group questions, prompts for input, or even direct questions to individual students if you know them well enough. Be careful with the last suggestion, the goal is to include the students, not intimidate or embarrass them.
Use visual aids. This is pretty easy to do today. Just be careful not to overdo the videos and pictures you share. You should not be handing your class over to professor YouTube, just showing snippets that enhance and reinforce your talk.
When using online material, make sure and watch it yourself first. Even though you are not the person in the video, if you show it to your class you are in effect endorsing it. There are some things online that you don’t want to be associated with.
Finally, this is an HVACR class. It is perfectly OK to have gauges, meters, gas valves, compressors, or any other tools or parts you want as visual aids. If you are talking about meters, every student should have one in their hands. You can even do some small exercises during the lesson. Remember, people learn by doing, so have the students do something. No, this is not your typical college class – it is a hell of a lot more interesting.