Thursday, August 20, 2009

TV School

A couple of years ago I was sitting--actually reclining--on the sofa with the TV remote in my hand. It was a Monday which, for those of you who know television, is a TV wasteland. (Yes, some days are worse than others.) Our limited basic cable service gave us access to the public service channels which, during the school year, broadcast classes from the local community colleges. Anyway, I found one of these classes, Cultural Anthropology and, for lack of other options, started watching. Within minutes, I was hooked. The professor was a really good lecturer--something that's very important on TV school. And the course was fascinating, particularly the historical stuff. (Yeah, I did major in history.) Not only did I get hooked on it, but I addicted J to it as well, and we took up eating dinner in the living room while watching class. (This enabled me to load the dishwasher during the break.) It was a lot better than the programs shown during the constant fundraising on our local public television station.

In addition to the anthropology, I learned a lot about teaching in the community college system. First, Sacramento has a diverse population, but the communities tend to be fairly segregated. Except in borderland areas, African-Americans live in one area, Latinos in another, Russians and Ukrainians in still another etc., so there's very little unconscious mixing. We have to travel a fair distance to get to a Russian bakery, for instance, and the Vietnamese sandwich place (best Vietnamese sandwiches I have ever eaten) is 25 minutes from our house on a good day. But school is where everyone meets up. And for a cultural anthropology class, that is joy. Because you can ask students to provide examples that illustrate points, expose cultural differences and similarities, without every having to turn to a reference work. Really fun.

And you learn how another diversity makes teaching at community colleges so difficult. The students have a wide range of skills and abilities, so that, as a friend of mine once said, "You have students who could be at Harvard and students where it's remedial 7th grade." And everything in between. Then, of course, there are the students who didn't bother to read the book. Teaching under those circumstances is very difficult, as you want to engage the students who are getting it, help those who are clearly struggling, and suggest that reading the book is a good idea. Not an easy task.

The next year I started searching for other classes. I found Statistics, which had bored me in college, and still bored me. I found Macroeconomics, which would have bored me had it not been for the fact that the session coincided with the financial meltdown last year. So I took up Macroeconomics and, while I did learn a few things, was more interested in the commentary on the financial meltdown. Like the anthro instructor, this one had a good sense of television teaching as a performance, and had charts and graphs and cartoons to illustrate his points. (Taking this class, though, really required that you have the text, as there was technical information that wasn't presented fully in the lectures. And I'd missed the first couple of sessions, so I didn't know what text he was using.)

Now I'm looking for new classes. There's art history, or astronomy, both of which I'd have to record for later viewing. But that's what VCRs are for.

1 comment:

annot8 said...

I do that too - the library world makes webinars conveniently avaiable during the lunch hour, and I munch lunch and crunch new ideas via the webcasts. It's a good way to hear good speakers, and also to hear the questions and answers the viewers call or text in. Continuing ed at its painless best!