Teaching Portfolio Narrative Aaron Bloomfield asb/portfolio/narritive.pdf · Teaching Portfolio Narrative…

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<ul><li><p>TeachingPortfolioNarrativeAaronBloomfield</p><p>IntroductionThisnarrativeisbasedlargelyonmyexperienceduringthispastyearteachingatthe</p><p>UniversityofVirginia(20042005),inwhichItaughtfourclasses,thesametwoeachsemester.Thefirstcoursewasanintroductiontocomputingclass(CS101),with420studentsduringthespring2005semester. Thesecondcoursewasadiscrete mathematicsclass(CS202). Thechallengeintheformerismanagingandrunningaclassofthatsize;thechallengeinthelatterispresentingsomeratherdrycoursematerialwhilemanagingtomakeitinterestingtothestudents.</p><p>TeachingPhilosophy</p><p>Ifyouknowtheenemyandknowyourself,youneednotfeartheresultofahundredbattles.</p><p>Ifyouknowyourselfbutnottheenemy,foreveryvictorygainedyouwillalsosufferadefeat.</p><p>Ifyouknowneithertheenemynoryourself,youwillsuccumbineverybattle.</p><p>SunTzu,ArtofWar,chapter3(LionelGiles'translation)</p><p>Thisisaratherstrongstatement,andmanymightconsiderit'suseinateachingnarrativetoberathercontroversialstudentsshouldnotbereferredtoastheenemy,forexample.Yetthis quote formulates thebasic tenet uponwhichmyteachingphilosophy(andmuchofmypersonalphilosophy)isbased.Aswithmanythingsthatoriginatethroughamilitarypurpose,ithassignificantapplicationstononmilitaryuses.</p><p>Iinterpretthisstatementtomeantheimportanceofunderstandingtheotherside,whetherthatsideisanenemyinamilitarycampaignorastudentinyourclass.Inapedagogicalcontext,sufferingadefeatmeansdoinganinadequatejobofteaching.</p><p>Oneapplicationofthisquoteisthataninstructorneedstounderstandthestudents'levelofknowledgecomingintotheclass,andwhattheyarecapableofdoingwithinthecoursefourthyearstudentsaremorecapablethanfirstyearstudents,forexample.Inmyintroductiontocomputingclass,noneofthestudentshaveprogrammedbefore.Indeed,somehaveneverusedacomputer before. I need to understand these various levels of knowledge so that I canappropriatelydirectthelecturesandmakethemcomprehensibletothestudents,foritisveryeasytoteachatalevelfarabovewhatthestudentsarecapableoflearning. Therearemanyprofessors who are hard to understand these are instructors who do not understand theiraudience.Whiletheymightbeperceivedasbrilliant,theyarenotperforminganypedagogicallyusefulfunction.</p><p>Anotheraspect ofunderstandingmystudents is to understand their perceptionof theclass,soastodeterminewhatareasneedimprovement.Inmydiscretemathclass,forexample,thestudentswerenothappywiththehomeworkgradingpolicy,astheyfeltitwastooharsh.</p><p>1</p></li><li><p>OnceIrealizedthis,Imadetheappropriatemodifications,whichfixedthediscontent.Iattempttoobtainalargeamountoffeedbackthroughoutthecoursetobetterunderstandtheirpointofview.ForeachassignmentinCS101,thestudentsfilloutshortsurveysaboutthedifficultyoftheassignments,aswellasprovidinggeneralcomments;Igiveoutmidsemesterevaluations(howamIdoingtypeofquestions);Iaskmanymorequestionsattheendofthesemesterthanthestandarddozenquestions. Indeed,thestudentsknowhowmuchIappreciatefeedback:onestudentevenprefixedhercommentswith,Iknowyoulikefeedback.... Onmyendofthesemestercourseevaluationsformy420studentcourse,Ireceiveda95%responseratethiswaswithoutrequiringorforcingthemtodothesurveys,andafteradding30additionalquestionstothesurvey.OneofthereasonsthatIgetsuchgoodfeedbackratesisbecausethestudentsknowthatIaminterestedinthefeedback,andthatItaketheirsuggestionsseriously.Theyhaveseenmemakemodificationsduringthesemesterbasedontheirfeedback,andtheyappreciatethis.</p><p>Thebestwaytorelatetoanybodyistounderstandtheirculture. Forfacultymemberswhoarewelloveradecadeolder(atleast!)thanthestudentstheyteach,thiscanbequiteachallenge,butitisveryworthwhile. Asanexample,tworapartists(50CentandTheGame)recentlysettledafeud. WhileIdonotlistentorapmusicmyself, alot ofmystudentsdo.Knowingabouttheendofthefeud(fromwatchingTheDailyShow),Iwasabletomentionitinclass,whichsurprisedthestudents. Thestudentsthoughtitwas'cool'thatIknewthis,andithelpedmetobetterrelatetothem.</p><p>Thelast lineinSunTzu'squotetalksaboutunderstandingyourself. Thismeansoneneedstoknowone'sownstrengthsandweaknesses.Itiseasier,Ibelieve,toseetheformer,yetthelatteriswhatonemustworkaroundinordertoimproveacourse.Asanexample,Iwasverybad with getting my homework solutions available to my students in a timely manner.Understandingthisasaweakness,Idelegatedthattasktooneofmyteachingassistants,whichsolved the problem. In a further effort to understandand improveuponmyweaknesses, IconstantlystrivetoimprovemyteachingIdon'tbelievethatanybodyeverisperfect,andtherearealwaysimprovementsthatonecanmake. Initially,thoseimprovementsarebigsteps;lateron,theybecomesmalltweakstoone'steachingstyle.Tothisend,IhaveparticipatedinalloftheteachingresourcecenterworkshopsofferedsinceIstartedlastasafacultymember.</p><p>TeachingMethodsOvertheyears,Ihaveseenmyshareofgoodinstructorsandmyshareofpoorinstructors.</p><p>Distilledfromthatexperienceismybeliefthatqualityteachingisbasedonthreefundamentalandinterrelatedprinciples:carefulplanning,goodstrategies,andpersonalinvestment.Attentiontoallthreeallowsmeasateachertobuildstrongcourses,explaincoreconceptsinaccessibleways,andreachouttostudentswithdifferentneeds.Together,theycoalesceintoacommitmenttocaring:caringforthecourseasawhole,caringforthesubjectmatter,andcaringforstudents.</p><p>Perhapsthemostobviouselementtosuccessfulteachingiscarefulplanning.WhenIplancourses, I work to make all the components lectures, labs, homework, slides into acoordinatedwhole. Lectures,forexample,shouldnotonlyexplorekeyconceptsontheirown,butshouldinterrelateconceptstoformafoundationalframeworkwhichpreparesstudentsforfurthercourseworkandexploration.Homeworkassignments,fortheirpart,shouldnotbeaset</p><p>2</p></li><li><p>ofrandomexercises,butratherthoroughlyintegratedintothecoursesoastosupportandexpandon material presented in lecture. Finally, labs should not makeup for things left out oflectures,butshouldcomplementthoselectures,offeringstudentsamorehandson,interactivelearningenvironment.IprovideafewassignmentsthatIcreatedinappendixD.Inallelementsofthecourse,then,Iworktoprovidestudentswithasmanydifferentwaysoflearning,investingaheadoftimeinplanningouthowtofitallthosepartstogether.</p><p>Organizationisanotheraspecttocarefulplanningindeed,itwasparamounttoensuringthatmy19teachingassistantsforCS101bothknewandperformedtheirjobsproperly.Inthiscontext,organizationtooktheformofwellstructuredmeetingswiththeteachingassistantsandcleardirectionsastowhattheirjobentailedandwhatwasexpectedofthem. Anotherpartoforganizationisawellstructuredwebsite;Iviewthewebsitenotjustasareferencetotheclass,butasoneofthemainmethodsofcommunicatingwiththestudents.Allthehomeworks,exams,labs, andgradesareavailable to thestudents via thewebsite. Thestudents appreciatedthewebsite,asevidencedbythiscomment:verywellorganizedcourseandwebsitewhichmadeiteasytoknowwhatwasgoingonandwhatneededtobedone.Thestudentsalsoappreciatedtheoverall organization of the course: well organized worthwhile class, very logicallyorganized,andthecoursewasveryverywellorganizedandwellplannedweresomeofthestudentcomments. Pursuanttomybeliefthatcourseorganizationisveryimportant,Itrytoincludeasmuchorganizationinmycoursesyllabusaspossible.Theconcern,ofcourse,isthatbyincludingtoomanyrulesandregulations,itwillbeadetrimenttothecourse,yetIbelievethatIhavefoundaproperbalance. ThesyllabiandthewebsitesformycoursesareavailableinappendixA.Inanefforttoimprovetheorganizationformyteachingassistants,IdevelopedanonlinegradingsystemthatwasusedforCS101.ThissystemisdescribedinappendixF.</p><p>Planningactivitiesdesignedtoreachouttostudentsindifferentwayspointstothesecondaspectofsuccessfulteaching:goodstrategies.Tosomedegreethisisaquestionofadaptingtodifferent learningstyles. Studentscometocomputersciencecourseswithdifferentwaysoflearning. Some of these are accommodated well within standard college courses, whetherthroughlectures,recitationsorlabs,homework,textbookassignments,officehours,etc. Forsomestudents,however,standardmethodsdonotworkverywell.Mychallengeasaninstructor,then, is to determine how different students learn, and to structure activities and developstrategiestoworkwithandforthosedifferentstyles.Centraltodoingthisistoseethesubjectmaterialfromthestudents'pointofview.Onewaytoreachouttothosenewtothefieldistobuild off what they already know, either through analogies to their noncomputer relatededucation, or by demonstrating the applicability of a concept through specific examples.Teachingbyexampleoranalogyaloneisneverenough:usedwell,however,ithelpsstudentsgraspthefundamentallanguage,concepts,andparadigmsofcomputerprogramming. Takentogether with attention to different learning styles, examples and analogies provide thefoundationforgoodteachingstrategies.</p><p>Finally,successfulteachingrevolvesaroundinvestinginstudentsasindividuals. Goodplanningandsuccessfulstrategiesontheirownareliabletofailureifthestudentsdonotsenseacommitmenttothemaslearnersandaspeople.Asagroup,studentsneedtofeelempoweredtoexplore newconcepts. As individuals, students need to feel comfortable asking questions,</p><p>3</p></li><li><p>requesting assistance, and expecting support. In courses where I have designed additionalmaterialstoexplainparticularlydifficultconcepts,studentsinmylabssaidthattheyfeltmoreconfidentthattheycouldmakesenseofthings,knowingthatIwastryingtohelpensuretheirsuccess.Obviouslynotallstudentswillaskforhelpinallcoursesorinallcontexts.AndIdonotbelieveinhandingeverythingtostudentsonasilverplatter;theyneedtoworkhardtolearnthematerialbeingtaught. Buttheydoneedtoknowthattheyhaveaccesstothesupporttheyneedinordertomasterwhatistomanyanentirelynewfield.Foritisthatsenseofconfidenceinthemasindividuallearnersthatwillempowerthemtoexploreprogrammingfurther.</p><p>Approachabilityisanotherkeyconceptininvestinginthestudentsthestudentsneedtoknow that they can seek helpeither in or outside of office hours. I believe in beingveryavailableforthestudentsinfact,Ikeepmyofficedooropenatalltimesforthisreason.Thismusthaveit'slimits,however,especiallyinaclassof420people.AlthoughIdirectstudentstomyofficehours,Iwillmaketimeoutsideofthemwhennecessary.Indeed,twostudentsneededasignificantamountofextrahelpinthecourseonehadneverusedacomputerbefore.Imetwiththemforatotalofover10hourseachduringthesemester,alloutsideofofficehours.Itrytomakemystudentscomfortablecomingtoseemetoaskquestions. Towardstheendofthesemester,afewstudentsfeltcomfortableenoughtostayinmyofficeafterofficehourstofinishuptheirassignments. ThisisthelevelofcomfortItrytofoster,aswhencombinedwiththeappropriatedistanceofa teacherstudentrelationship, allowsforgreaterstudent learningandinvestment.</p><p>HumorStudentspayingattentionforanentire75minutelectureissimplynotgoingtohappen,</p><p>nomatterhowgoodtheprofessoriswhoisteachingtheclass. Studentsareusedtoconstantstimulusintheirlivesfrom24hourcableTVnewstotheInternettovideogames. Thus,sittingstillfor75minutesinalectureisaverydifficultsituationforthemtolearneffectively.Therehavebeenstudiesdone that showthat theaverageadult attentionspan is 20minutes(referenceinappendixE). Whilemanystudentsmayhaveanaveragehigherthanthis,it isunlikelythattheiraverageattentionspanisthe75minutelengthofaclass.Understandingthis,Itakehumorbreaksduringthelecture,andtrytohavethemevery20minutesorsothus,2or3alecture.</p><p>HumorisveryimportantaspectofmylifeandhowIteach. Peopleenjoythingsmorewhentheycanlaughaboutthem. Thechallenge,ofcourse,ishowtomakesubjectssuchasdiscretemathematicshumorous.Thepurposeforbringinginhumoristwofold.First,itallowspeopletoenjoythelearningexperiencemore. I havehadmyentire420personlecturehalllaughingandapplaudingatsomeofthehumoroustidbitsIbringintoclass(I'mnotparticularlyfunnymyself;IjustbringinhumorousorinterestingasidesthatI'vefound). Secondly,andperhapsmoreimportantly,itallowsthestudentstotakeabreakfromthelecturematerial.Thishelpsbringtheirattentionbacktothematerialoncethehumorbreakisover. Ialwaysexplainthesereasonsfor thehumorbreaksduringthefirst class. Inparticular, thebreaksareoftenunrelatedtothematerialbeingdiscussed,asthatgivesthemachancetofocusonsomethingelseforamomentortwo,soastoresetthemindsotheycancomebackrefreshedtothecourse</p><p>4</p></li><li><p>material. Asoneofmystudentsphrasedit,heunderstandsthatstudentsdo,infact,havealimitedattentionspan,andhisattentiontogivinghumorousasidesbetweenlectureskeepstheclassfocusedandattentiveingeneral.Byunderstandingthelecturefromthestudents'pointofview,Iamabletomaketheappropriatemodificationstoenablethemtobetterpayattentionandthustobetterlearn. Thisalsomakesthelecturesmoreenjoyable,andcausesthemtobemoreinterestedintheclassmaterial.</p><p>Muchoftheextanthumorrelevanttomyclassesisveryspecifictothefield,andwillnotgetmuchofareaction(ifany!)fromalargeclass.Thus,IoftenusehumorthatisnotrelatedtothefieldIamteaching.Considerwhatwasrecentlyvotedonasoneofthemostfunniestjokes:</p><p>SherlockHolmesandDr.Watsongocamping,andpitchtheirtentunderthestars. Duringthenight,Holmeswakeshiscompanionandsays:"Watson,lookupatthestars,andtellmewhatyoudeduce."</p><p>Watsonsays:"I seemillions ofstars, andevenif afewof thosehaveplanets,it'squitelikelytherearesomeplanetslikeEarth,andifthereareafewplanetslikeEarthoutthere,theremightalsobelife."</p><p>Holmesreplies:"Watson,youidiot.Somebodystoleourtent."</p><p>ThisjokeishumorousifpeopleknowSherlockHolmes. Thisjokeisascleanasjokescanget,butit'sreallynotallthatfunny.Andinaclassof420students,itisnotlikelytobringmorethanafewweaksmiles.</p><p>Alineexistsbetweenwhatsortofhumorisappropriateinaclassandwhatisnot,andalotofthereallyfunnyhumorisonorbeyondthatline. Considerthetopicsthatprofessionalcomediansjokeaboutmostofitisverypoliticallyincorrect!Ihaveevencrossedthatlineonceortwice.WhileIdomybesttosayonthepropersideofthatline,Ifeelthatonemustpushtheenvelopetogetthebestresults. Thereisnopointtobringinginhumorintoclassifitisnotfunny.</p><p>The challenge, therefore, is to find humor that is relevant, funny, and appropriate.Lackingtherelevancytothetopicbeingtaught,thegoalistobringinfunnymaterialwhilepushingtheappropriatenessenvelopeasmuchasiscomfortableinordertogainhumorvalue.IhaveincludedasetofallmyhumorslidesinappendixB;Ishowacoupleoftheseineachclass.Notalloftheslidesarehumorousbythemselves;butwiththepropershowmanship,theyareallcapableofgeneratingapositiveresponsefromthestudents.</p><p>These humor breaks need not always be funnymaterial, however I often bring ininteresting tidbits to share, even if theyarenot humorous. Someof themhavebeenquitesobering.Oneexampleisalistofthetopsoftwareerrorsofalltimeoneofwhichcostthelivesof28servicemenandservicewomeninthe1991GulfWar. Thismanagestoachievethesamegoalsasahumorousbreakitallowsthemtochangetheirattentionforamomenttoatopicthat,ifnothumorous,isquiteinteresting. Thisexampleisparticularlyapplicable,asitalsoshowswhyweteachgoodprogrammingpractices:sothesesortsofmistakeswon'thappen.</p><p>Onemygoals with the humorousasides is seamlessly working theminto thecoursematerial intheformofdemonstrations. Oneexampleis whenIdemonstrate theconceptofbinary search, an algorithmfor finding anelement in a sorted list. To demonstrate this, I</p><p>5</p></li><li><p>dramaticallytearaphonebooktoshredsinfrontoftheclass.Andthestudentslovedit!TheyevenapplaudedonceIwas...</p></li></ul>

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