Time and timing

It seems that inevitably class discussions follow an ornery pattern: as time gets short, they get really really interesting. This places me in a bit of a bind: shut things down so that we end on time, or let them run even at the cost of exceeding our scheduled boundaries. This gets even more pressing when the course in question is a night class, and "running over time" means that students are filing out of the classroom close to 11pm.

Okay, that doesn't happen every time. But it did on Tuesday evening, when we had the best class discussion we'd had thus far this semester -- and about Kant, of all people. Maybe it was the week off for Fall Break, or maybe it was my repeated warnings that Kant is Very Heavy Drugs and has to be consumed slowly with lots of food and water and really deeply pondered, or maybe it was the excellent student presentations that began the class session -- or maybe it was all three -- but for whatever reason the discussion was going very well indeed. We didn't have to spend too much time on first-order ("what is the author saying? what's the argument?") questions, but were able to leap fairly quickly into the second-order ("does the author's claim make sense? do I buy it? what's at stake in accepting or rejecting it?") issues that are the really fun part about discussing philosophical works. Relativism vs. universalism; idealism vs. pessimism; whether there is a real conflict between theory and practice -- heavy stuff for a Tuesday evening, but precisely where I would have wanted us to go had I been able to choose it.

So we were bopping along, collectively wrestling with core issues, when BANG -- 10pm. I know that we need a break (since we've been going since 8:10), and after the break I need to talk for a few minutes about next week's reading. So going to break means the end of the discussion. But it's going so well…so I let it go. Until about 10:15. Then we break, and then I give my mini-lecture…and then it's 11:00pm. Oops.

Part of my rationale for making podcasts out of all of my mini-lectures for that course is that next year I won't have to spend scheduled class time delivering the lectures -- I can just post them someplace, let students download them, and use the time saved to really allow the discussion to flourish. In my experience it takes about an hour or so for things to really get revved up, and a well-timed break about an hour and a half in can give people a chance to recharge and regroup -- making the second half of the session even better. Dropping the mini-lectures, or rather, externalizing them onto a website someplace, makes it possible for me to actually do that in the future. And then I can facilitate those great discussions without holding people on campus until 11pm.

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