You may have heard me mention that I’ll be taping a course for The Teaching Company‘s Great Courses catalog. This week, I went up to Chantilly for my first practice session. (Incidentally, I’ve been asked not to talk publicly about the content of a course that’s still very much in development; fine with me, as I expect the course will be mutating as I write it. So I’m not going to tell you what the course is about. Yet.)
I’ve used Teaching Company lectures for the kids. In fact, right now my thirteen-year-old is enjoying Black Holes Explained (which I bought on sale, by the way–each Teaching Company course goes on sale at some point during the year). Some of my favorite scholars have done courses for the Teaching Company. And hey, Bill Gates is a fan. So I was tickled to be asked to do a course myself.
I’ve been working out a detailed outline for the course over the last few months, and this practice session was an introduction to using the teleprompter and slides. I was also supposed to experiment with moving around as I lectured, instead of standing in one place.
What a weird experience. There was NO ONE in the studio. For practice sessions they don’t use cameramen, just three cameras set on wide angle. Each camera has a teleprompter, so you end up, more or less, explaining things to the teleprompter. Which doesn’t really have facial expressions to tell you whether or not it’s bored and confused. Instead it has a little red light, and when the light goes out you’re supposed to turn and speak to whichever of the other two cameras has the red light. Kind of like chasing Tinkerbell while trying to remember your next lecture point.
When I tape the course itself there will be cameramen–as there were when I did my audition lecture. That was actually harder in some ways because you’re lecturing directly to three guys whose faces you can’t see (and they can see YOU, which made me ridiculously self-conscious). On the other hand, the cameramen do signal when you should switch from one camera to the other. I spent way too much time talking to the wrong camera.
I’ve done a lot of teaching and a lot of public lecturing, and never realized just how much I rely on facial expressions to adjust my lectures. I speak from notes, but the notes always have far more material in them than I deliver. I pick and choose as I go, depending on the reactions from the listeners, and I never deliver the same lecture twice.
This doesn’t work for Teaching Company lectures. In the first place, you don’t get any reactions. In the second place, that particular method lends itself to mistakes: you make overstatements and understatements, which you can compensate for if you’re talking live. Not so much on a course that’s frozen on DVD forever. (Inevitably this will produce letters that begin, “Dear Dr. Bauer, I was appalled to hear you make such a gross mistake in the beginning of your lecture and I will never buy or read any of your materials again.”) The third problem is the teleprompter, which only has four or five lines of your notes at any given time scrolling past you. Not really possible to glance down the page and decide what to address next.
So I’m back home, working on my history and middle-school writing projects, and also on these Teaching Company lectures: setting them in concrete, cutting the notes down to what I’ll actually say. Feels very odd. I’m going to have to deliver the lectures to my office wall in order to make sure that I’ve got exactly the right words for the teleprompter.
Oh, and that ten pounds? Well, I won’t be wearing THOSE pants when I deliver the actual course lectures. In fact, I’m thinking of asking for a body double.