The Performance of Teaching: Not Ready For Its Close Up.

Blue and BrutalTeaching, I’ve discovered, is a bit like theatre.

I’ve always known, of course, that performance is an important aspect of effective teaching, especially when the size of the class is more than a handful of students.

I’ve now learned that the kind of performance involved in teaching, like the performance involved in theatre, does not translate directly to video very well.  

I learned this recently while developing a video version of Brains, Minds, and Human Nature, a course I developed and delivered for Carleton University’s Learning in Retirement program.  

Originally, I had imagined I would make the video version of the course simply by delivering and recording new lectures using the lecture notes and slides that I used for the class. As soon as I tested the idea, a few weeks ago, I realized it wouldn’t work.

There’s a casualness of speech and tone in classroom teaching, which doesn’t transfer well to the detailed attention of an audiovisual recording. Similarly, audio recordings also require a pace and intensity that would be over the top in the classroom.

Repetition, in order to reinforce key details, is essential in classroom teaching. In an audiovisual recording, which can be stopped and played again immediately, that kind of repetition quickly becomes tiresome.

After a few false starts, I developed a script for the video which is much shorter and much more focussed than I thought it would be, focussing on only a few of the ideas I presented in the course. It will work, I think, but it will be different than a formal course.

Hopefully, it will be ready for sharing fairly soon, depending on the approach I adopt for its visual components. I’m considering a simple approach and a more elaborate approach. I’m inclined to keep it simple, but I won’t know for sure until I get the audio recorded and drop it into a video editor.

If you’d like me to send you a link to the video, when it’s posted, drop me a quick note at or leave a comment below.

The Aims of Teaching: We Change But They Stay The Same.

AimsofTeachingI’ve been thinking about the aims of teaching.

I was spurred to think about these aims because of a course I recently developed for Carleton’s Learning in Retirement [LIR] program. Although I have decades of teaching experience, I have never taught a classroom of people who are twenty, thirty, and possibly even forty years older than me. I have, of course, taught individual people who are older than me, but never a group of them. Moreover, LIR courses are not for credit. The students aren’t enrolled to get a degree or to get ahead at work. They aren’t even assessed through tests or assignments! So, for this kind of student, in this kind of learning environment, as a teacher, I asked myself, what should my aims be?  

I was also spurred to think about the aims of teaching because of the internet and the incredible resources that are now available on it. Most of the age-old gatekeepers of knowledge have wholeheartedly embraced the internet, are now providing high-quality and expertly vetted resources, and are very often providing them for free. So, in this information age, with an abundance of high quality resources at everyone’s fingertips, as a teacher, again I asked myself, what should my aims be?   

After much thought and several false starts on the articulation of my thoughts, I realized that the aims of teaching remain pretty much the same whomever is taught and whatever the number of resources available. For example, whatever the age of the students might be, an effective teacher needs to identify and understand their learning needs and create a safe space where they feel comfortable to learn. Similarly, whether you have access to one book or all the books, a teacher will always need to curate and prioritize whatever information is available for study.

I think what is true of these examples is probably true for any of the teaching aims we might identify. The expression or application of the aims will change for different audiences and different circumstances, but the aims themselves won’t because the desired outcome is always the same: a person who is newly knowledgeable and, ideally, wise with respect to the area of inquiry. Teaching, for this reason, seems to be definitively and, perhaps, distinctly other-regarding. A person may be able to learn alone, but s/he can never teach alone.

Here’s a list of teaching aims I came up with. They have been shaped/reworked thanks to some very insightful feedback from friends on Facebook. Do you have any thoughts or additions?

  1. Identify and understand the needs of the student.  
  2. Create and manage a physical and social environment appropriate for healthy learning. (e.g. students know they can fail safely.)  
  3. Curate the domain of inquiry (e.g. learn this before that.)
  4. Facilitate knowledge transfer and discovery, while inculcating the tools and tactics of inquiry.
  5. Facilitate the development of critical reasoning skills.
  6. Facilitate the ability to articulate and/or express ideas, opinions, arguments and conclusions respectfully.
  7. Model and inspire relevant virtues and values (e.g. curiosity, hope, enthusiasm, honesty, openness, an appreciation of these virtues in others, etc.)  
  8. Acculturate the student into the relevant community.
  9. Ameliorate the student.
  10. Solicit feedback on the effectiveness of methods and resources employed, reflect on the results and adjust accordingly, and, when relevant, share the lessons learned with other teachers. 

My Learning In Retirement Course Wraps Up: More to Come!

LearningSix weeks goes quickly when you’re preparing new lectures and delivering them to a group of highly engaged and attentive students.

My Learning In Retirement course, Brains, Mind, and Human Nature, wrapped up at Carleton University last Tuesday.

I haven’t received the official feedback yet, but I expect it will be positive overall.

I’d say most people in the class enjoyed the course and my lecturing style. A few people even took the time to express their enthusiastic appreciation directly to me. One woman told me that she enjoyed my humor. I’ve also got a few more Facebook friends too.

For me, it was an exceptional experience. It’s rare to have the rapt attention of any number of people, but all the more rare while teaching. In sharp contrast to most undergraduate classes, everyone present wanted to be in the classroom and was very eager to engage with the ideas I presented. 

If you’d like to learn more about the course, I produced fairly detailed lecture notes to go along with my slides. Take a look below and send me your thoughts.  

  1. Introduction and Overview
  2. The Politics of Your Brain: Anarchy Not Monarchy
  3. The Unconscious: An Altogether New Kind of Beast
  4. The Geography of You: Where Do You Begin and End?
  5. You’re Not in Charge: Free Will and Moral Responsibility
  6. Exorcising the Ghost in the Machine: A New Understanding for an Old Vision of Self

I will also convert this course material into a series of YouTube videos. I expect the videos will have a slightly different tone, given the nature of the medium, but I expect the series will cover much of the same ground that the course did.

If you’d like to be notified when I produce and post the first video, send me an email: []. I’m also available for tutoring — one-on-one or in small groups. 

Think you’ve got a lecture series in you? Contact the good people at Learning In Retirement. The program is exceptionally well-administered. I highly recommend the program to any teacher, who is ready to bring their passion to a group of people who are ready to share in it and to learn from it.