Monday, December 5, 2011

Big Classes Coming to an End (well, for me)

Tomorrow is my last big lecture at McGill.  In the winter/spring, I will teach only 80 students at a time, rather than 600.  As much as I whine about the ten percent problem (where 10% of the students in any class tend to be fairly clueless about following instructions and a big class just means heaps more of these folks), I do enjoy the big room and the big platform. 

As readers of this blog have figured out by now, I am an attention hound.  I do like the stage and the challenge of keeping the 400-550 students awake.  Plus the challenge of keeping the room as full as I can get it.  I didn't make it easy on myself as I do post on the course webpage not only the slides but the automatic audio recordings.  So, students can blow off the class and then get the lecture downloaded so that they can listen to me while they exercise.  That image has always delighted me--that I am putting student drivers to sleep, un-motivating them when they try to exercise and so on.

The big lecture class is not the optimal way to learn anything, but given the resource constraints and the heap of interest in the topic, it has not be an awful way to be educated either.  I have worked to make it better with cheezy demonstrations (comparing apples and oranges quite literally) and video clips. I have sometimes erred by doing too much of that kind of thing.  I still read all the evals I can get so that I can figure out the proper balance.  I changed the textbook a couple of years ago, which forced me to re-think some stuff.

The great thing about the class is that the world is always changing yet remaining the same--so the concepts still matter but the examples change.  Well, some stuff of substance does change and so I have emphasized different things over the years.  I am more willing to be clear about my bias (that the decision to fire the entire Iraq army in 2003 was the stupidest decision in US foreign policy) than before.  Passion can keep them (and me) awake.

Anyhow, it has been a fun several years, although having around two thousand students (three plus year's worth of students) recognize me (and me not being that able to recognize most of them) around campus and downtown has been strange.  I am sure I will be far more anonymous in the smaller city of Ottawa.

While I am looking forward to the change, I will miss these students and this class.  I always insist that International Relations is the most inherently interesting subfield in political science, that the intro class is an opportunity to demonstrate this truth and enjoy the teaching of it.  Alas, life is full of tradeoffs (which is one of the lessons of the class).


Jennifer S said...

Ottawa is far too small for you to remain anonymous! Plus, there's a whole bunch of former students here, too, just waiting to run into you downtown... ;-)

G. said...

Prof. Saideman,

I appreciated that you were clear about your biases during lectures and didn't present your research as gospel like many McGill professors (though, as a bit of military buff, I found your piece on caveats in Afghanistan a great read...I'll be picking-up the book when it's out!)

Still hoping spaces open-up on the waitlist for Civ-Mil Relations. As a U2, think I can pull rank with the department? :D

I leave POLI 244 respecting just how remarkable and visionary "Clash of Civilizations" really is. An uncompromising view of the future and prototype for great social science methodology...

Thanks for a great semester! Best of luck in Ottawa!