Thursday, August 14, 2008

Random Teaching Bits

I recently attended a teaching workshop. (Irony: during the day, as I was learning to become a better teacher, I totally blew off the online class I'm teaching.)

Here are some takeaways I got from the session:
  • Normally at the beginning of a course, I ask students what their expectations are. This is good; it gives them ownership over the contents, and ensures that everyone's taking the right course for them. However, there's a problem: most of the time, my students don't know to expect, so they say nothing. Possible solution: ask where they see themselves ten years from now if they continue in this field. What skills do they expect they'll need and use? This lets me deal with student expectations about the course and the industry at the same time, and a greater number of them will have something to say in response since they all probably have some image in their head (no matter how inaccurate) about What It's Like Out There.
  • Another problem I run into occasionally is a student who is having issues outside of class and it makes their coursework suffer, but I don't hear about it until after the fact. Solution: address this on the first day of class as a matter of policy. I particularly liked how one professor put it: "my job (as a teacher) is to help my students succeed, and I can't do that if I'm not kept in the loop."
  • Lastly, part of the process of mastery and learning is feeling really stupid at times, and this is something that I don't think occurs to a lot of students (especially if they've excelled at all of their classes before). Really, the more you know in a field, the more you realize that you don't know. Once you master the basics, that's when it starts occurring to you that there are all these unsolved problems, and all these new ways to put things together. As a result, the smarter you get, the more ignorant you feel. Corollary: if you feel like a total moron, it probably means you're learning something!


A. Ortiz said...

So that's where you were.

Out of curiosity, when you're teaching, what do you do with students who don't seem to be grasping the basic concepts of the class? In that same style of light, there's also students that allow personal experience to get too much in their way of analysis of games. How to you help students think of things more objectively?

Ian Schreiber said...

Students who aren't understanding the basics of the class: In an ideal world, those students will come to me before it's too late and we can figure it out in office hours. After all, if a student is struggling with the material in a class, they're usually aware of this.

In the real world, most struggling students don't announce themselves, so I have to intervene after the fact (i.e. when the grade from the midterm exam comes back and they totally bombed it). Even then, it has to be student-directed; I can't force anyone to learn against their will.

So far, I actually haven't had many cases where students actually had a difficult time with the material. Mostly, when students do poorly in my classes, it's because they have a difficult time putting in any effort. They don't show up to class, don't do assigned readings and don't turn in homeworks. For online classes, I sometimes have students who don't even log in for a week or two at a time. This isn't a problem with understanding the course content, but with understanding what it means to be a student taking a class.

Helping students think about games objectively: This is tricky. I do still get papers sometimes where the goal is to analyze a game and instead I get a fanboy review telling me that the game is "great" and "awesome" and "best evar" without saying anything about what it actually *is*. It's something I still struggle with, so I don't have the answer for this yet.