Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I used to think marking papers was excellent fun. I liked to play school with myself when I was little, and I’d give myself math and spelling problems and always get some wrong so I would have the fun of scrawling over the sheet with red pen.

This was before I’d ever spent a term teaching, then marked 285 exams and discovered that nobody had learned a word of what I’d said.

I swear to God, they knew the answers to all these questions at one time. I say this with total confidence because I remember standing in front of each of my classes and repeating over and over what harmonics are, what conjunctive search means, how crossed and uncrossed disparity differ. I explained these things until the students said, “OK, we get it!” And then I made them explain it all back to me.

At the end of the term, I told them how to study. I explained that over and over until they said, “OK, we get that too!” And then I said it again.

Now just a few weeks later, I get this:

White noise is defined as _____________. ‘A hiss’ was by far the most common answer; ‘the black and white dots you see on TV’ easily came in second.

The head related transfer function allows us to localise sounds in the _________ dimension. I got ‘fourth’. Also ‘supernatural’ and ‘3rd world’. Regardless of whether you know what the head related transfer function is, what in the name of all that’s holy is a ‘3rd world dimension’?

Damage to the ‘parental’ lobe may produce tactile agnosia. What’s that, the part of your brain that makes sure you’re home by ten on weeknights and don’t drink straight from the milk bottle? Should be parietal.

Peaks in the speech spectrum are referred to as ‘people yelling and screaming???’. Creative, but not quite.

The importance of faces in our lives is located in the brain where they are processed differently to objects.’ Seriously, guys? Seriously? What does that even mean?

I like to think there’s a silver lining to almost everything, though. And even if those students of mine didn’t learn anything, I certainly did. Just yesterday I gave a presentation on my thesis, a practice for what I’ll do for lab visits in August, a presentation that I was still constructing ten minutes earlier. And I, Laura the Great and Terrified of Public Speaking, did not get nervous. At all. For the first time ever. I just stood up in front of all the lab’s music researchers and spoke for 40 minutes, making half of it up as I went along. And it was fine. The supervisors said it was great, clear, well-explained, etc.

Amazing. And gratifying to know that at least one of us got something out of my teaching this term.

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