Teaching is like cooking; or why publisher supplied slides could be bad for the former and good for the latter

Few years back, I discovered that I enjoy cooking. It was completely unexpected, and entirely welcomed. I found that standing in front of a stove for a few hours preparing food for my family is a tremendously rewarding experience. As a result, I embarked on a journey to turn myself from a person that didn’t go much further then scrambling some eggs, to someone who can whip up a four course dinner for friends and family (not there yet.)

Along the way, I discovered that there are three stages of cooking proficiency. In stage 1, the cook is following the recipe to the letter, constantly checking measurements and steps, afraid of deviation. In stage 2, the cook will rely on the recipe, but will already have the confidence to make changes or substitutions. In stage 3, the chef generates his own recipes, experimenting with ingredients and flavors to get his own signature down.

As I make a foray into teaching, and transition from those who do to those who teach, I observe that teaching is a lot like cooking in the sense that I see the same three stages present in teaching as I do in cooking. In stage 1, the instructor presents the information as is, nervously checking his sources and slides. At this stage, the instructor attempts to curtail the discussion as his comfort level with the topic, and with his ability to channel the discussion in the right direction, is not there. In stage 2, the instructor tends to consult the materials, but can generally deviate in any direction, stir up a conversation, and then bring the class back on topic. In stage 3, the professor generates his own knowledge and instructs his students on the same.

I observe this rough separation both at McCombs and at St. Edwards where I pursue my Masters in MIS.

But now what of the slides you ask?

What I also notice is that lately, there is a tremendous reliance on the slides provided by textbook publishers. Even in the case where professor seems to be very competent in his topic, he may still choose to use these slide decks. As a student, and an observer, I feel it makes instructors lazy and reduces the effectiveness of the class.

For one, I observe the tendency of the instructors to not prepare for the class. “I know I have a slide deck which I can use as prompts so I’ll just wing it,” is what they seem to say. Sometimes that may work out, sometimes it may not and higher the level the instructor is teaching, the less likely this attitude may work out. At graduate levels, the chances that there is a student in class with deep knowledge of this topic are far greater than in high school, and so winging it in grad school may simply make one look incompetent.
Another observation is that using publisher’s slides forces the class into the flow created by the publisher, which is likely to be uncomfortable, or downright incompatible with the instructor. It forces the instructor to go through the subject in a textbook format, and if this particular chapter was assigned as reading, the class ends up being not a value add time, but a rehash of last night’s reading.

Ultimately, unlike cooking where provided recipes serve to help a stumbling cook get to an acceptable result, publisher provided slide decks serve to hinder instructor’s progress as teachers and unwittingly reduce the effectiveness of the classroom experience.

I understand the desire on the part of publishers to provide these slide decks, but perhaps we need for school administrators to look at these materials and prohibit instructors from using them. What do you think?


About Vadim

I'd like to have something really impressive to say here, but it's just not in the cards. Maybe later.
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