More than other aspects, teaching has been one of the most difficult to learn on the job. There is no shortage of advice out there, both in person and on the intertoobs, but the gap between knowing and implementing can be wide at times. The first time I taught my main course I simply survived it. It was the most difficult semester I have had as a PI and there were times when I questioned whether I had made the right career choice. I was a terrible teacher at that point and made dozens of N00b mistakes, mainly because I spent most of my time on content and had nothing left when it came to effective communication.
In year two I was able to get my head around improving the organization and delivery. The third time around I overhauled several aspects of the course and gave it a central theme that wove through the semester. Now that this semester is winding up I think this has been largely effective, as have been several adjustments I have made to how I teach.
But every time I grow comfortable with the class, I realize it needs more. As I make up the exam for the class I am starting to realize that there are a significant number of slides I disregard when making test questions. Whereas some of them are important for context, I have to ask myself whether many of those slides add value or whether they just eat space. The need to fill the class certainly drove some of the content in the early stages of the class, but I feel like I'm past that now.
It has become abundantly clear to me that my students need about three main points from each lecture, and beyond that they get lost. And I struggle to balance my belief that they should be able to handle more if they put the time into the class with the repeated observation that these students do not effectively learn even core concepts without significant and repeated reinforcement. I can either fail a large number or adjust my teaching to the realities of the audience. It's easy to fault the students for not "getting" the material, but I'm not arrogant enough (yet!) to absolve myself of blame. Streamlining the lectures to demonstrate key points and engaging the students in discussion of those points are the goals that I am starting to focus on at this stage.
So, dear readers, what are the tricks you use to organize your lectures and deliver them effectively? How do you get students involved? Is something like clickers useful for a ~25 student class, or have you found different ways to get them engaged? I have tried a few novel (for me) strategies recently to get them talking in groups about certain concepts, but I'm not entirely happy with the outcome.
I feel like I am finally at a point with this class that I can experiment a bit and get out of the straight lecture routine. I make a lot of effort to get responses from the students during lecture, but at this point I realize the limitations of that style, as many students have never contributed a single time. I also think that mixing things up will keep the students involved and make the class more enjoyable for both them and I. I'm open for suggestions.