It's the end of the first week of lectures, and I'm reminded of why it is I wanted to do this in the first place.
Tuesday afternoon I walk into a sprawling lecture hall, and watch it fill up with students. The part I hate the most is that awkward period between when I arrive and when I start talking, but I never manage to minimize that because I am almost physically incapable of not arriving early to things like this. But then right from the start I get them to talk, to each other, to me, to raise ideas half-formed, with probably 8-10 people (out of ~60, so that's a fantastic percentage for a big lecture theatre!) volunteering questions, comments, and answers. When plotting my lectures, I often earmark questions and the answers I expect/want to receive, and this time, the students basically went bang bang bang down the list -- even in the order I had them! It was fantastic, and it set the foundation for the rest of the term: If they know from the start that this is how things are going to be, hopefully the ones who didn't talk will feel comfortable doing so in the future. And even if not, even if it's the same dozen or so people who participate in lectures, that's OK. Some people don't have the snap-ability to come up with questions or objections. Those can prepare their thoughts in advance and contribute in tutorials. Afterwards, I received an email from a student asking to set up a meeting to talk about the logic side of things (which we won't reach for a few weeks! Pro-activity on the part of a student!), and it ended, "P.S Tuesday's lecture was wonderful. Thank you!"
Yesterday was my first logic seminar; I had 13 people signed up, knowing that 2 of them (and possibly one more not formally enrolled yet) were going to be coming on Mondays instead, I figured there was a good chance of getting a good crowd. I realized a bit belatedly that it would be worthwhile advertising this course to the MA and PhD students, so the email didn't go out until Thursday morning, but nevertheless 12 people showed up -- 10 undergrads and 2 master's students. Of the 10, 8 I had in my class last year, and four of them are writing their dissertation with me. :) I'm especially pleased to have these four back, I had some really interesting discussions with a few of them over the course of last year (and one of them, his dissertation topic has me very excited, it's a bit bizarre, really, because all my hanging out with the computational social choice people in Amsterdam (i.e., Joel's research crowd!) is paying off, because what he's planning to write on falls squarely within that remit.) We get two hours, so I spent the first hour sketching very briefly basics, to ensure that we're all on the same page w.r.t. propositional logic, and then after a break I gave them some exercise sheets just to brush up on truth tables, and got to listen to that glorious sound of groupwork. Judging from the discussions I overheard, it was a good idea to have them do some of these exercises, even if they're the sort of thing they should've mastered in their intro logic class two years ago. For the remainder of the year, I want every student to be in charge of running the seminar twice -- since there are 12-15 people, that's 2-3 people each week, which will give them the opportunity to work in depth with someone else, a skill that I found so tremendously useful in my early logical career that I want to encourage whenever I can. (They were rather shocked when I told them that I encourage them to work in groups on the homeworks, and if they do, they should just hand in one answer sheet with the names of everyone who contributed. I don't want to have to read numerous duplicates!) Because the assessment comes in the form of a single end-of-term in-class exam, those who put their names down on homeworks w/o actually contributing will feel the full consequences then!
When I met with the few who can't come on Thursdays earlier this week, one of them asked if I was planning a 4th year follow-up module. Now, in philosophy, there are only three years, and then we switch to the master's modules, and I'm pretty well certain that the dept. is not going to be interested in having me offer an advanced logic module to the master's students, since most of them wouldn't have had the basis necessary to take it. But apparently the maths programme either is or can be four years. I mentioned the very vague possibility of a 4th year follow-up in Thursday's seminar, and afterwards another student came up to me and said "If that happens, I'll take it." Now I need to look in how exactly to get that set up: I think it would have to be an actual maths course, with a maths code, etc., because it appears that there is no such thing as cross-listed courses at Durham. I have no idea what the protocol is for someone from one department leading a module in another, if that's even possible. If it is, and I can get this done, then I would be in a position where I'm contributing teaching to modules in philosophy, maths, and modern languages and cultures (that's the dept. that handles the MA in medieval studies, which I currently give one lecture in one module for; someday I hope to expand that to entire module). And you know what? That's a pretty awesome feeling. THAT is true evidence of interdisciplinarity. I bet there are not many other people out that who teach in three different departments.
Early in September I was invited by one of my 3rd year students from last year, who stuck around Durham to do a Master's and is now running the Arts & Humanities Society, if I'd give an evening lecture as part of their series, possibly on some of the material I'd covered in the class she took. This seemed a perfect time to talk about the paper that I co-write with one of her fellow students, which will be published next year (and which I got the final On-line First version last night, conveniently enough), discussing what lessons for traditional theories of meaning we can learn from looking at fictional discourse and fictional languages -- i.e., I got to talk about Santa Claus, Pegasus, Sherlock Holmes, Klingon, Quenya, Dothraki, Minionese, other nonsense languages, and play a couple of video clips. The lecture was yesterday, and probably 60-70 people came, including a few of my students. :) Gwen had been home from nursery the last two days after a stomach bug in the middle of the night on Tuesday, so she helped me make my slides -- they were just individual sentences to consider the truth values of, which I illustrated with random images from google. She helped pick them out. :) And then she helped me watch three Minion movie trailers to find the best one to link to, and there I was, sitting on the couch at home with her tucked under my arm, watching movies and laughing together, and calling it research. Work/life balance: It works sometimes.
Walking out to my talk last night, in the dimming twilight falling over the city, with the sun behind the clouds and the lights coming on, and the cathedral illuminated against the gloom, I thought about how amazing it is here and how lucky I am to have landed here. I intended to write this post about how Durham is the city where (my) dreams come true, but I need to break this off now as it's almost time to skype into the St. Andrews Latin reading group. Maybe I'll pick this back up after lunch.