Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lectures and Stand Up Comedy

I am going to digress to make a point that will tie in nicely with and bolster the point of the next post. So, bear with me as this will probably sound like an unrelated digression.

I have been lecturing to classes for many decades. When one 'takes' classes they see a professor or teacher at a moment in time which is too brief to see any patterns with regard to teaching or lecturing. But, when you teach for some period of time those patterns become obvious, perhaps painfully obvious.

Professors, not unlike other performers, experiences ups and downs in their profession. Some times teaching is as good as life can  get. Other times it borders on the unbearable. For example, new professors are often buoyed by the experience of being in front of the class. Being the expert while gaining the respect and admiration of the students is a pretty heady experience. But, at some point, the novelty wears off and the new professor experiences doubt. Maybe he doesn't know as much as he though she did. Maybe there are students in the class who know more either from other classes or from life experiences. In some classes the chemistry is amazing. In others it is poisonous. Some times you can't wait till class begins. Other times, you would do anything to avoid it if you could.

It was in one of these slumps that I had an epiphany. I had been a bit off and I had just had a nightmare class. Everyone who teaches knows exactly what I mean by the nightmare class. There are students in the class who don't want to be there. There are others who shouldn't be there. There are no motivated students that you can use to perk the class up. It is a dreary and difficult situation. Fortunately, it does not happen very often.

But, it was in one of these slumps that I was up late at night watching stand up comedy on Comedy Central. The epiphany was that teaching and stand up comedy had a lot in common. The comedian cannot rely on the energy of the audience. While it is nice if the audience loves the show, the comedian must be energetic even if the audience is asleep or abusive. The comedian must make each joke fresh even if that joke has been told a hundred times before. Similarly, the professor cannot rely on the energy of the audience. The lecture must be energetic even if the class is half asleep. And ideas must be offered as though the professor just thought of them in order to keep the lecture fresh. There are more parallels, but the point here is merely to show that one can get inspiration from the oddest places and you never know when a format used in one area can be applied to advantage in an other.

When I stumbled on to graphic novels, I had a similar epiphany. The format of graphic novels can be applied to great advantage in education - first in in-class lectures and ultimately to online education. I have used the stand up format to great advantage in improving my in-class lectures and I am sure I can use the format of graphic novels to take things to the next level.

No comments: