Podcast Episode 6: What Makes a Great Lecture? With Donald Kagan

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Donald Kagan, the Yale Sterling Professor of Classics and History, has been one of the world’s leading scholars of the ancient Greeks for almost 50 years. He’s published numerous books on the subject and has been teaching at Yale since 1969. In this episode he shares his opinions on a wide range of topics including what makes a great lecture and his unique approach to teaching seminars.

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Show Notes

0:00 Intro

1:06 Kagan interviews McKee.

1:42 Donald Kagan has his lectures videotaped. He just did what he always did.

2:05 He was reluctant because he had seen very good lecturers taped.

3:05 Two consequences of having your lectures taped. Enrollment went down. Now he gets mail from all over the world.

4:03 The Khan Academy

4:53 The lesson never learned. “You never know who’s out there.”

6:28 Why are good teachers not so good on video? The mannerisms of a guy who talks for a living. “The guy wasn’t really talking to me.”

8:03 Donald Kagan watches his own lectures. “Yeah, that is me….I guess that’s what I do.”

9:23 What do you get from the student evaluations? “It’s not good for my character.”

9:57 What did students think about what I did?

10:48 Doug: Students are honest on their teaching evaluations.

12:00 Research on making lectures interesting

12:58 Teaching non-majors

13:43 Nobody has to be there.

15:38 How do economists get away with what they get away with?

18:53 What’s the difference between a great lecture and a mediocre lecture? Be interested in the subject. Be someone who likes to talk to people.

20:08 Lecturing means provoking a reaction and creating a conversation.

23:13 We’re dealing with issues that are…interesting and important…and they are difficult. There isn’t a simple answer.

25:49 What is the value of being in the room for a lecture? Communicating importance.

26:30 The live lecture: magic, immediacy, humanity, and authenticity.

33:20 Teaching history and agency. “Practically nothing is predetermined.”

33:14 You don’t decide I’m gonna spend my life thinking about this and then cut it off when you go to class.

38:40 Kagan’s first course in ancient history: “She was a terror.”

44:58 Favorite teacher number two: “Bismarck might have done this….”

47:34 Why do we care? To understand ourselves we must understand others and the past.

51:30 How your discipline shapes your teaching.

54:39 Political history has been marginalized in favor of advocacy.

56:12 Chekhov’s view of humanity and the significance of the Seagull.

59:55 How Donald Kagan teaches a seminar.

1:04:10 Let’s go back to before I made that mistake….What matters is what’s right….It’s not about winning.

1:05:55 The mimeograph as learning technology.

1:08:30 Modeling questioning for the students

1:10:00 What happens when the students want to be there

1:11:29 Making mistakes in the classroom. And forgetting them.

1:12:52 It helps to have a good time.

1:13:24 Making failure okay.