Performing in Large Classroom Settings

I recently attended this talk by Robert Gateman.

Many of us know Robert Gateman as the flamboyant, somewhat bizarre, yet somehow appealing ECON 101 prof we had, or wish we had, in first-year. But how much do we really know about the most talked about UBC instructor on  Click here for the full Ubyssey Gateman interview

I attended because I was interested in seeing Dr. Gateman in action.  He’s the most popular prof at UBC on  What does he do that appeals to students?  His appeal is real at UBC.  400 students came out on a Monday night to hear an extra-curricular talk … that’s really quite amazing!  The energy in the room was excited.  Some students didn’t even know what he was going to be talking about, they just knew that this was supposed to be good.  And Gateman delivered.  He had some serious crowd control going and managed to use the group energy to capture the attention of the students.  For example, he started his lecture with his apparently typical, “Every body UP!” stretching routine to loud music.  I say apparently typical – because many students seemed to be expecting the routine.  Students were happy to shed typical routines, get up out of their seats, and do something different, together.  Watching Gateman deliver his lecture, I picked up on a few things that he does to capture the attention of his audiences in these large classroom settings.

  • know your audience, build on what they know already, relate your teaching materials to what they can do
  • connect personally, maintain eye contact as you move around, talk to individuals
  • use theatrics, even props, his lecture wasn’t particulary polished — but you did feel like you were watching an actor in a play
  • move around, never stay at the bottom of a big lecture hall
  • have a simple message that keeps coming up the whole way through
  • use humor, for example offbeat humor can make the message stick — i.e. tie it in a knot vs. global population control

Who knows?  I may find myself dropping in to see an Econ101 lecture to see if Dr. Gateman is as offbeat in a typical classroom.  I bet he is… and I can see why getting “something different” appeals to undergraduate students.  Thanks, Dr. Gateman, for the real life example of how it is possible to use these large classroom settings to capture the energy of large groups and connect with students.

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