Having been part of the Computer Science academic community for many years, both as student and instructor, I have come to believe that the best teachers are those that excite their students about the subject and help them see the value in what they learn. In essence, teaching ought to be about successfully communicating knowledge with the student and nurturing their desire to learn. As such, I embrace a philosophy that promotes employing a variety of teaching mediums, and engaging and stimulating the students’ intellectuality and curiosity.
In practice, I have had the opportunity to develop and execute this philosophy through acting as a Teaching Assistant for several different courses in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.
However, the most challenging and rewarding opportunity so far has been my assignment as the instructor of record for CS4664, a capstone class for data science majors, this semester. This position has allowed me to experiment with and explore the following teaching practices I had in mind:
- I chose to innovate and personally create the material I deliver in class instead of recycling existing material. Creating my own teaching content has allowed me to add my personal touch, to focus more on the details I deem important, and to include the media content I believe is most conducive to learning some of the abstract concepts, such as animations and video clips.
- While most Computer Science professors choose to deliver more theoretical content in class, I have found that a healthy balance of theory and practical demonstration is best. This is especially the case for disciplines of technology. Traditionally, professors leave technology as something to be explored during homework. It is commonly believed that struggling with homework is the best way to learn. While I partially agree with this statement, I also believe that interactive activities in class, such as coding demonstrations and group in-class assignments, add great value to the learning experience.
- I decided to have a variety of class modes: Some classes are lectures on necessary theoretical background, some are practical demonstrations, some host guest lecturers, and some have the students present their own project work or topic of interest. Such variety has shown to be significantly more engaging than basic lecturing.
- I created an environment that encourages participation, collaboration, and debate: At first I tried to solely focus on in-class participation. However, some students were uncomfortable speaking up in class. Thus, I created a monthly Canvas discussion assignment where students can post about a topic of interest, and respond to others’. I found that most of the class shared very interesting thoughts and carried very interesting and respectful debates.
- I required students to deliver presentations/lectures about their projects and/or topics of interest: I worked in the technology industry for six years, where I saw that computer engineers need to be able to present and articulate their thoughts to their peers during meetings and workshops. Thus, I cultivated this culture by making the students’ grades more heavily based on their presentations rather than their writings or assignments.
- I have recreated class assignments to encourage exploration and experimentation rather than focusing on a “correct” final answer. For example, I have specifically created assignment descriptions and rubrics that encourage the exploration of different algorithms and experimental designs and parameterizations, and discourage fixations on getting the highest score. Not only has this helped the students appreciate the subject more, but it also helped me grow and develop a deeper understanding of my domain.
- To assess my performance, I have asked students to fill out an anonymous survey to get feedback. I think it is important to check with the students during the semester whether there is more I could do to enhance their learning experience. I gladly found that most students think the classes are at a good pace, have clear content, and are satisfactorily engaging. Also, many students expressed that they enjoyed the practical demonstrations and some of the niche topics I chose to explore.
To sum up, I constantly strive to introduce unconventional teaching methods to my class . This is not to follow a certain trend or to blindly appeal to a “coolness” factor. Rather, first and foremost, I am dedicated to reaching out to my students, to get them to relate to the subject, and to ignite the spark of curiosity in them. I believe this is the ultimate goal of decent education.