Field of Science

Professor or entertainer?

An article on Slate asks "how entertaining does education have to be?"  The answer is simple; not at all.  Entertainment is a diversion; education requires engagement. Very little entertainment requires more than your passive attention. The most entertaining professor TPP has ever personally witnessed, a colleague, was quite amazing; he would roll out a steady stream of titillating stories and salacious factoids, and, oh, did the students think he was great. And his exams were easy, so in combination, his "teaching" evaluations were astronomical.  TPP is no slouch as a lecturer, but in comparison, when team-teaching with my entertaining colleague, my evaluations were more than 1 point lower (on a 5 point system) than when teaching with a variety of other colleagues. Statistics also demonstrated that TPP's portion of the course was determining the grade for 4/5s of the class because my colleague's exams were not discriminating.  Education should be engaging, interesting, and if you like learning, fun. Of course, now, especially in larger classes many students would rather engage with their smart phones and aren't even passively attentive. So anytime you think you must be entertaining as a teacher, you're heading the wrong way. Put something interesting in the hands of students; get them to engage with it, and you won't have to be easy to get good evaluations. TPP isn't a hard professor, although he is reasonably demanding, and botany isn't rocket science (it's more important and more interesting actually) and a solid work ethic almost always yields good results. Lazy students, students who avoid engagement, students who try to low-ball learning are in trouble, and fortunately in the minority, way less than 10%, but then TPP is mostly teaching upper division undergrads in elective courses.  It wasn't always that way and for nearly 2 decades TPP taught freshmen biology courses to both majors and non-majors. TPP was interesting but not entertaining.  And yes, his evaluations are higher than the Slate article's author.

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