Breaking Barriers

This year, after my very positive experience at the Olin college of how interactions outside the classroom and a more humane approach strengthens the educational process, I have been running my Linear Algebra course in quite a different manner. Considering the larger number of students and limited hours as well as based on my reading of how people learn, I have zeroed in the following. The experience is highly positive, I can see that my students are happier, more open to learning and friendlier. Here are some highlights of my course.

Every lecture we start with check-ins where 3 to 4 students volunteer to share what makes them happy or sad on the given day.  The process takes less than 10 minutes. Sometimes I also participate in sharing. This has multiple positive effects.  

  1. I get to know about the class psyche, their likes, dislikes, interests, if there is something that bothers or distracts them on that particular day, it becomes apparent.
  2. We usually get to laugh at one or the other idiosyncrasy of the class, usually it is a gripe about some test or submissions.
  3. We discuss some new information, be it a rock band, movie or sport.
  4. Students become more attentive and less distracted during this time, as it is about them.

Often, though not always, I show a short video clip (5 minutes or so), at the start of the class. I have shown, ballet, sports (cycling by Danny McAskill are amazing videos), Ted, music, Mr. Bean and similar videos so far. The advantages are,

  1. It helps improve language skills of the class.
  2. Improves general knowledge.
  3. My students are happy and relaxed and ready to start learning.

 In most lectures I try to involve as many students as possible by asking questions and inviting comments. This often takes the class in some very interesting domains. As can be seen from my lecture notes on github.

I initiate more discussions on social issues, like gender stereotypes, social taboos etc, I have found my students to be quite mature.

  Once we also played an impromptu game, of throwing a ball around to the person coming up with the best answer or comment in the class (This was a bit tricky, could have gone out of hands, but questions were reasonably challenging and the light interactions kept everyone attentive).

We laugh a lot more, sometimes on my stupidity (I once collected kids in my family and took them to watch “Ramleela” thinking that a movie with poetry by Meghani has to be nice), sometimes on remarks from the students.

What is totally weird is that my classes require much less preparations (I feel almost guilty about this) run quite spontaneously and for once we all feel that we are working towards the same goal of learning and enjoying the process.



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PhD in Nonlinear Dynamics and Chaos. Teaching Physics and Mathematics to engineers for more than 11 years. I have a huge interest in teaching and learning and an incurably optimistic attitude to the limit of sounding insane. Unless specified I always interpret words as per average public perception where I take the average over my known universe, the context unfortunately is only limited to my universe, but I hope neuroscience will change it sooner or later.

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