• Syeda Zareen Rafa

Curating Knowledge

Updated: Sep 2, 2020

Syeda Zareen Rafa

Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

Treating your elders with respect may be a universal custom, but the value that South Asians place in this practice is, without question, much greater than Americans or Europeans do. For instance, the languages of South Asia – like Bengali, Hindi and Urdu – have terms synonymous with “brother” and “sister” with undertones of respect that you are expected to use for anyone who is even a year older than you are. When this much care is taken to treat all elders with respect, it is not surprising that teachers are held in high esteem. Unfortunately, that may not always mean that their incredibly important work is compensated with fair salaries or benefits, but it is still regarded as a highly reputable profession in most families in the region, including my own.

Naturally, for a while “teacher” used to be my answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Years have passed and my answer is no longer the same, but I still find myself with a great deal of respect for the profession, as well as a lot of curiosity about it.

To get some insight, I approached two professors at McGill asking them to describe to me what went into the making of one of each of their lectures at the university, and they very kindly took time out of their days to briefly outline that for me.

I spoke to Professor Gary Brouhard who teaches BIOL 201 Cell Biology and Metabolism. About his classes, he says, “The broad outline of a lecture is made far in advance, but the finishing touches on the animations are sometimes last-minute.” He went on to say that updates are also made when new editions to a textbook prompt them. Of course, there is more that goes into the lessons: “Some of the topics I teach are directly related to my research area, so I know that stuff backwards and forwards. For topics outside my area, I read prominent review articles and some primary literature, as well as the textbook of course. I browse other textbooks to see how they have treated the topic.”

Lectures also need to be exciting and concise, and Dr. Brouhard tackles this by adding historical context, anecdotes, and relevant links to medicine or evolution wherever possible to keep students engaged. He also makes sure to spend an average of two minutes per slide with around twenty-five slides for a one-hour lecture.

I also requested Professor Eesha Sen Choudhury to tell me about her class, ECON 313 Economic Development 1. The building of lectures for this course has a fair number of similarities with former, but the course does stick to the textbook to a greater degree, as explained by the professor: “…we keep as close as possible to the textbook unless some material on the textbook requires further explanation, in which case I need to include some research work.”

It was very interesting to hear from the two of them about the basics of putting together a day’s lecture. To me it sounds both difficult and fulfilling at the same time, and I think I am slightly intrigued to put teaching back on the list of things I may want to do later in life.

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