Really, what did I do?
I am teaching a section of public speaking this spring for the first time since the fall of 2003. First observation- wow, I have changed a lot as a teacher. And I mean that in the best possible way. More thoughts about that in a moment.
Second observation- wow, youtube. As I was planning the first week or so of the class the fact that youtube has become a significant teaching resource for me was thrown into relief. I found myself cueing up videos I wanted to use that I have cataloged over the past several years (are you using ‘favorites’ and folders to organize your youtube videos? you should be) and searching for new resources to do some things I just haven’t had to do before (I teach classes with a public speaking component, but this is the first time in ten years I have taught the stand-alone class).
What youtube does is allow me to engage the same sort of practice I consider essential to teaching writing. In writing I like to think about “marinating” my students in models of good writing. We read examples and dissect them, investigating how the writers created the effects we see in the writing. Now, with the help of youtube, I can do the same in public speaking. I suppose that ten years ago I showed them some videos, probably of things like presidential speeches, and we thought about them. Youtube allows me to show a much broader range of what verbal communication is: Franz Johanssen (author of The Medici Effect and an incredibly dynamic public speaker), TED talks, university lectures, Oscar acceptance speeches, political stump speeches, personal rants, strange advertisements, performance pieces (Taylor Mali is always good). There really is no limit. There are even videos speaking very effectively to specific teaching points I want to make (the problems of bad PowerPoint, for example). Of course, youtube also provides some examples of really bad public speaking (I won’t share links), which can be useful as well.
It’s like a teacher’s buffet out there. And every time I think of something new I want to give an example of, I can find it. We were discussing forms of informational speaking the other day, and I found this clip of Neil DeGrasse Tyson speaking about whether a meteor will destroy the earth. It is a really great example of someone who is an amazing communicator.
And we aren’t wasting time with long speeches on video. A 2-5 minute clip is all I need. We can dissect it, analyze it, and move on to figuring out how we can incorporate those techniques in our own communicating. It really changes the course. When we use the term ‘public speaking’ we think speeches and lectures. Which are a form of communication. But what I really want my students to learn is not just how to give a formal speech (though that is a useful skill), but how to think critically about communication, and make informed and skilled decisions about what their goals are in any given situation, and how best to achieve those goals as proficient communicators.
So really Youtube has been part of transforming the class into a very 21st century communications course, focusing on spoken communication instead of written. Like so many things, it isn’t really what we are doing that has changed (though some of it has), it is how we think about what we are doing that has changed. School, at least in terms of this class, is a little less contrived, a little less artificial, a little more about learning things that will help students to achieve their own goals and plans in life. A little more engaging.
Allright. I said I would talk about how my teaching has changed in a larger sense, but I am going to break that into a second post, as this one is getting long enough. Click the links, go explore the interwebs, think more about teaching and learning. I am.