“Getting an education at MIT is like trying to drink from a firehose.” — folk saying
The Torch or The Firehose: A Guide to Section Teaching, by MIT Mathematics Professor Arthur Mattuck, is a guide to recitation teaching at MIT. During a typical recitation section, a teaching assistant (TA) meets with a small group of students to review the most recent lecture, expand on the concepts, work through practice problems, and conduct a discussion with the students. With good humor and sound advice, Professor Mattuck offers both novice and seasoned recitation instructors guidelines on how sections can best serve as a complement to lectures, how to help students become better learners, and how to enjoy their experience as recitation teachers. Lecturers claim they have learned something from it, too. This content was first published as a printed booklet in 1981. This is the second edition. It has had a wide distribution, both at MIT and other universities, since it first appeared. It is finally available in digital format to allow broader distribution and use of this valuable material. If any significant changes are required to adapt it to the needs of another institution, please clearly notify readers that the work is modified from the orginal version and provide a link to this web site. For archival purposes, translators should notify MIT OpenCourseWare of their version.
Type of Material:
Online open courseware with open textbook in English, German, and Spanish, and other open resources as PDF files.
This resource may be primarily used for section teaching but also as part of a teaching workshop for section teachers or any other instructors teaching their own courses. It may also be used for learning in teams or simply gaining some tips and insights through individual study. There's an excellent observation form that may be used for teaching observations.
To access the material, one needs access to the Internet and Adobe Reader or another type of pdf reader. The entire course may also be downloaded as a zip file. In that case software for unzipping or extraction is required, which is found on most computers natively.
Identify Major Learning Goals:
The goal of this resource is to support section teaching that accompanies large lectures but also small classes delivered by instructors themselves. It also aims to provide advice on how to teach, including: preparing for class, how to conduct class, pedagogical points, your questions and student questions, communication skills, promoting interaction, assignments & exams, and special students.
Target Student Population:
The material is aimed at teachers and instructors of any level but primarily TAs in the earlier stages of teaching.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
Basic knowledge of and interest in teaching is required
The content quality of this resource is excellent. It presents valid and accurate teaching concepts, models, and skills that are educationally significant for teaching in higher ed. It is complete in scope and ready for immediate use as it is. The suggestions in the booklet are based on a few hundred hours of classroom observation and videotape watching and on consultation with the MIT Teaching and Learning Laboratory.
Although the suggestions in the booklet are based on a few hundred hours of classroom observation and videotape watching and the MIT Teaching and Learning Laboratory was consulted, there are no references to or incorporation of the significant achievements regarding instructional research in higher education.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
This booklet clearly articulates its purpose and goals. The user will be able to effectively achieve these goals. Compared to other methods of teaching support and evidence-based practices, this resource is just as effective. The content level is appropriate for higher education TAs and instructors. The resource has visual appeal deriving from the copious hand drawn illustrations. It intrigues the user intellectually to reflect on their teaching. It is new and original. It provides an effective introduction, overview and summary at the end of the booklet. It allows for connections to the immediate teaching community.
There is a no mechanism for contacting the author of the site for consultation/questions. The booklet might also be more effective, if it were to allow for connections to the outside, broader community of section teachers throughout the US and world. Nonetheless this booklet apparently has enjoyed a wide distribution at other universities.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
This resource presents the information clearly in an engaging conversational style and is arranged in an orderly fashion from the prologue to the epilogue, summary, classroom observation checklist, and index. The information is well organized and logically ordered. The content level is appropriate for the expertise level of the intended audience. This resource presents information in ways that are familiar to the intended audience and that would be attractive to them. The booklet is clearly and simply designed with few distracting design elements. The guiding principle of this booklet's organization: put the most common problems first so that readers in a hurry can still get something of value from it.
Although the copious drawings are for the most part relevant and supportive of the text, some readers may find some of them a bit distracting.
Other Issues and Comments:
The material is backed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through this site, educators improve courses and curricula, making their schools more effective; students find additional resources to help them succeed; and independent learners enrich their lives and use the content to tackle some of our world’s most difficult challenges, including sustainable development, climate change, and cancer eradication.
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