…and so it goes – Trevor Holmes

Bit of a dry spell on the blog this term! We’ll try to be more regular.

So I’m sure readers have been holding their collective breath, awaiting eagerly my update from the first day of class a couple of Fridays ago. That’s right: in my first blog post of 2011, I imagined a perfect pedagogical storm of a first day. I did do what I intended to. Many of the students in lecture contributed good thoughts to the definition of culture we were coming up with, collectively. They didn’t seem to tire of the pairs of images so much as previous years’ cohorts have. And in tutorials, when confronted again with some of the same images, they deepened their analysis still more, becoming comfortable with each other in the smaller setting. I even had them fill out tutorial logs at the end of each tutorial, so those who didn’t get a chance to contribute could let us know what they were thinking.

Sounds pretty awesome to me.


As with any 200-seat class that started up the first Friday in January, several people were still on holidays. Upon their return, they started posting things on the message board about what had been missed, or had anything happened in first lecture, and so forth. The answers were telling. Although people expressed general feelings of pleasure and curiosity, the consensus was not to worry, there were very few things to write down. In fact, said one person, the single paragraph of notes from the two hours together wasn’t even that important.

Now, understand, gentle readers… none of this surprises or disappoints me. Note-taking wasn’t the point of lecture 1. It was the process, not the product, that mattered. What I do note from the responses, though, is that I have to sort out a way to document this work — for myself, for people who are absent (more sympathy for illness, have I, but I’ll give vacationers the benefit of the doubt here too), for those who want to look back on day 1 and see how far they’ve come in their understanding (this last point is particularly important, I think).

More concerning than (non-)reconstructions of the first lecture, though, is something I uncovered in week 2.

We have alternating tutorials, odds on week 1, evens on week 2. In both weeks, I’ve played a “bingo” game to help people get to know one another better (the kind of game in which you fill up your card with people’s names based on questions you have to ask them). Thing is, I peppered a few content-related questions through the form (both as background knowledge probe and as “hook” for the learning). In week 2, after two lectures that reiterated it, and after a reading that also mentions it, not a single student in my tutorial recalled the two components of the linguistic sign (after Saussure): signifier and signified. The collective amnesia disturbs me a bit, and the reports over the years directly from my students about their increasing levels of distraction in class and out of class makes me think it’s time to get more directive about laptop use, for example.

Many colleagues have banned laptops. I start each lecture by reminding them to use them well, for the Good, and I ask for input on the course website as well as searches during lecture. Nevertheless, the temptation to go on MSN, Facebook, YouTube etc. is too great. Luckily, one of my TAs (who was an Academic Mentor last term) introduced us to a Firefox plugin that could help them if they actually use it. It helps you to manage the times you can and can’t visit certain social networking sites! It’s called Leechblock. I’m going to recommend it to my students. I want them to leave the course both recalling and being able to apply some basic knowledge!! My expectations may have just lowered a bit…

Next time: raising those expectations back up.


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

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As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum and Programming, Trevor Holmes plans and delivers workshops and events in support of faculty across the career span. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Trevor worked at a variety of universities teaching courses, supporting faculty and teaching assistants through educational development offices, and advising undergraduates. Trevor’s PhD is from York University in English Literature, with a focus on gothic literature, queer theory, and goth identities. A popular workshop facilitator at the national and international levels, Trevor is also interested in questions of identity in teaching and teaching development.

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