Switching from Academic to Sportscaster: Teaching Advice from Hans Rosling

Today’s author is Dave Watson, the DTF for the Statistics Department.

On October 25th, the famous statistician Hans Rosling delivered the Second David Pickard Memorial Lecture. The David Pickard Memorial Endowment Fund and Lecture celebrates the memory of David Pickard, an outstanding teacher and mentor in the Harvard Statistics Department from 1977 to 1985, who sadly died of a brain tumor in August of 1986. In addition to an invited lecture, the fund recognizes excellence in teaching. This year, the 2012 Pickard Award for Teaching and Mentoring was presented to Tirthankar Dasgupta, Associate Professor of Statistics. Viviana Garcia Horton, Jessica Hwang, Bo Jiang, and Nathan Stein were named the 2012 Pickard Teaching Fellows.

Rosling’s entertaining talk can be seen here (Rosling starts around minute 30) and is recapped here. Rosling has become famous for his engrossing lectures that dispel common myths about global health issues (see his work at http://www.gapminder.org/). His talks feature moving graphics, which show associations and relationships changing over time (his son and daughter-in-law developed the software, Trendalyzer to create these moving, interactive images).

Rosling’s effective style goes beyond well-made graphics. After displaying his first moving graphic (see around the 38 minute mark of the above video), Rosling let us in on his secret. While describing the moving circles and changing trends, Rosling’s speech quickened as he tried to keep up with the pace of the action, or as Rosling described, he “switched from academic lecturer to sportscaster.” This change allows the audience to relax and focus on what is being said. As Rosling pointed out, students often spend too much energy pretending to understand and not enough trying to understand. The ideal section or discussion creates an environment where students comfortably ask questions and volunteer ideas. How can our presentation style contribute to such a classroom? What roles other than sportscaster can we take on to relax students? Talk show host? Yogacharya? Bartender?

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