What’s Your Lecture Face?

I was thinking the other day – it doesn’t happen that often so I try to make the most of it when it does – about what a strange situation it is when someone stands up in front of a bunch of students and lectures at them for an hour. In the course module I’ve just finished teaching I’ve had the best part of a 100 people watching, and occasionally listening to, me drone on about something or other. What’s strange is that all those people see basically the same thing, whereas the lecturer gets to see all those different facial expressions. I wonder if the students are even aware that each one has a characteristic lecture face?

I’m one of those people who finds it very difficult to give a lecture without looking at the audience. It’s partly to try to establish some kind of rapport with them, notably in order to encourage them to answer when I ask a question or to offer questions of their own, but also to try to figure out whether anyone at all is following what I’m saying. Not all students are helpful in this regard, but some have very responsive mannerisms, nodding when they understand and frowning when they don’t. When I’m teaching a class for the first time I usually look around a lot in an attempt to identify those students who are likely to help me gauge how well things are going. Usually,  there are only a few barometers like this but I would be lost without them. Fortunately most students seem to sit in the same place in the theatre for each lecture so you can usually locate the useful ones fairly easily, with a discreet look around before you  start.

Most other students seem to have a default lecture face.  The expressions range from a perpetual scowl to a vacant smile (each of which is in its own way a bit scary). There’s the “wish I wasn’t here” face of pure boredom,  not to mention those who are fast asleep; I don’t mind them as long as they don’t snore. There’s the Bookface of someone who’s not listening but messing around on Facebook, and the inscrutable ones whose faces are masks yielding no clues as to what, if anything, is going on behind. The brightest students often seem to belong to the last group, although I haven’t done a statistical study of this so that must be taken as purely anecdotal.

Anyway, I feel a Christmas Poll coming on. Please participate if you can be bothered. If you don’t know what your own lecture face is, then you could always ask….


5 Responses to “What’s Your Lecture Face?”

  1. I’m reminded of the (possibly apocryphal) story of Derren Brown at university. He would ask a small number of friends, randomly distributed around the lecture theatre, to alter their “lecture face” (although he didn’t call it that) between “interested” and “bored”. “Interested” when the lecturer stood on the left side of the room, “bored” on the right, and presumably graded inbetweeen.

    The story goes that it would generally take about 20 minutes for the lecturer to reach the left side, and would stay there for the rest of the
    lecture. I’ve not tested this myself, but there are probably enough readers with suitable opertunity to test it…

    • telescoper Says:

      I realise that I omitted “Interested” from the range of options. That’s probably because I’ve never experienced such a look.

  2. Voted sleepy but thats only because your lectures were at 9 on Mondays and Fridays and I havent yet had my daily Lucazade by then.

  3. roger blandford used to sit in seminars with his head in his hands… it was very off-putting if you were the speaker.

  4. I’ve given perhaps a dozen 1 hour live lectures. I’ve tried (often in vain) to get audience participation going. I stumbled on a strategy that seems to work. 0) have a policy that questions should be asked the instant you have them 1) deliberately say things in a way that demand explanation, 2) when someone asks a question, pause long enough for someone else in the audience to answer it. 3) wait until the discusion dies down before moving on. It’s totally awesome when it works.

    Another accident worked. Pick a topic strange enough that no one had a clue prior to the start. All of the postulates are simple, and make instant sense. The conclusion is absurd – the Holographic Principal. Leave enough time for questions at the end. Answer the questions. I didn’t think that the audience would be up to it, but in two attempts, both audiences came up with the most outrageous questions. And i was prepared.

    We’re into our 4th year of the half hour monthly TV show Astronomy For Everyone. It goes out on local public access cable TV. I find i have to study extra hard before going in front of the camera to reduce the really stupid mistakes i make. I’d have expected similar stage fright in front of a live audience, but that’s minimal by comparison. I could read a script but 1) they take forever to write, and 2) it comes out like a robot reading it. So i work from an outline, and improvise to get the time to come out right. We’ve done conversations, but if there’s a script, and i don’t get the question phrased the way i expect it, it throws me off. But conversations work fine if i don’t know the script. It’s all very odd.

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