terriko: (Default)
So, it turns out that not only do I dislike half the samples I can find online of good philosophy of teaching statements, I also hate everything I write on that front. But the deadline is today and my references have already sent in their letters, so I think I've just got to suck it up and submit what I have.

I am, however, pleased with the ideas in this paragraph on failure:

But perhaps the biggest lesson was about failure: Many students seemed to believe that any failure was a sign of fundamental, unfixable inadequacy, and this was especially toxic to the women and other minority students who were more likely to feel like imposters. But many self-taught programmers learn through experimentation and repeated failure, so we encouraged students to do this in tutorials and even celebrated ridiculous bugs together by encouraging the students to share them and help each other debug. The students who had difficulties at the beginning could see other students failing and then succeeding, and the change in their confidence levels was noticeable, as was the resulting change in what they attempted and what they achieved.


That's a little piece of what made teaching tutorials such a different experience from lecturing, and something I really loved watching happen every year.
terriko: (Pi)
I'm taking an online course on How to teach webcraft and programming to free-range students taught by Greg Wilson, who some of you may know. If you don't know him, you might want to listen to this talk he gave at CUSEC several years ago. Anyone who's ever thought about the world critically will probably get something out of that talk, though it was geared undergraduate software developers.

Our first assignment is to look at these recommendations about best practices to improve student learning and Greg's post about which of these he's managed to apply, then write about how we have or haven't managed to incorporate these ideas into our teaching.

A story about pencils, 7 recommendations, and a lot of discussion... )

Conclusions?

So, lots of these things work and are common practice in my classroom experience, but not so many as far as mentoring goes. I think a few of them could apply more if I was looking for/creating opportunities for discussion and revision, but the past couple of years I haven't kept close enough tabs on my summer of code students' work to be effective at leading them down those paths. Definitely food for thought! But i feel like some of it, like quizzes, would feel incredibly forced outside of the classroom environment. Plus, repeating stuff just isn't that much fun... but maybe it could be?

Ages ago, a friend was telling me about a role-playing game she was in where she had to level up her Jedi (or maybe it was Sith?) by doing things like making web pages or doing photo editing and taking quizzes on the software she learned. I thought it was interesting that this group of people was clearly trying to help train their members outside of the game while they were training their characters in it, a gamification of life long before I'd ever heard that term (or, perhaps, before the term had been invented, though I do so love the assertion that Weight Watchers with its points is one of the most well-known examples of gamification of life). Anyhow, her game included little photoshop and story writing contests and such that seemed to keep her engaged and interested in her game "assignments" -- I wonder if there would be ways to bring some of that to free-range programmers? We have contests, but not at learner levels. We sort of have ranks as open source developers sometimes (bugs solved, commit access, invited to maintain $foo), but they're often not explicitly defined so it's hard to use them as motivation.

This might be interesting, but I can't shake the feeling that trying to force things like quizzes to work for free-range learners might be like clinging to the pencil as a way of learning.
terriko: (Default)
I'm prepping a job talk for next week, and wanted to share some quotes from the articles I read. They're not really all related to giving a great talk.

“Anyone can think of a hundred reasons why something will fail. I want that rare individual who can think of the creative one way in which it will succeed”
- Leo Kim (from Tooling Up: Job Talk Jitters)

"Always end your talk by saying “Thank you.” It is not pretentious—you are doing the audience a favor. If you do not cue the audience so they know when to applaud, they will be confused and irritated. Like most social rituals, the thanks-applause sequence comforts everyone. Do not ask for questions until you complete it."
- Jonathan Shewchuk in Giving an Academic Talk

"The lecture room was about two-thirds
full when we arrived, with more empty
seats towards the front than in the back.
Richard had been prepared for this.
Undergraduates, he told us on the way
there, have a highly developed fear of
fire and always want to be close to the
exits, just in case."
- Owen O'Shea (quoted in FOCUS on Students: The Job Talk)

I also read "Half a Minute: Predicting Teacher Evaluations from Thin Slices of Nonverbal Behaviour and Physical Attractiveness" which was pretty interesting. Short version: people viewing short clips of video (without audio) of a teacher can estimate their end-of-term reviews from students with startling accuracy. Those are some useful first impressions!
terriko: (Default)
On the whole, I like my students. They are smart, creative, awesome folk who astound me by what they know as often as they astound me by what they don't. But when I'm marking, these fascinating individuals somehow manage to come across as the most annoying intellectual toddlers. I honestly don't think most of them mean to be rude, they just don't realise what they're doing. So here's a few things that have irked me this term, why they bug me, and how you can avoid ticking off the person who controls your marks. I doubt tutorial centres teach this kind of learning skill, but maybe there should be courses in, uh, university etiquette with regards to communicating with your Teaching Assistant (TA).


1. Don't ask for more marks while your TA is still marking. As in, if your mark was posted 5 minutes ago, it's too soon to ask. If your TAs are marking more than one thing at once (e.g. a midterm and an assignment) you should probably wait until both are done.

Why shouldn't you do this? If your TA gets an email while they're still busy with other students' work, they're going to be (a) too busy to help you immediately and (b) may forget by the time they have time. TAs are also students, and have to set aside their own work while they mark, so they've got other stuff piling up and want to get back on top of that before dealing with you. Your query will be about as welcome as a yappy, biting dog, and some TAs are seriously vindictive about remarking.

What's better? Wait a few days before sending that email, or better yet, come to office hours where the TA is being paid to help you right then with whatever problem you bring forwards.

2. Don't say things like, "I didn't have time to edit this." My knee-jerk reaction to "I didn't have time to edit this" is "well, in that case, I don't have time to mark your unedited crud either."

Why shouldn't you do this? It says, "I didn't care enough about this assignment," with a dose of "I have poor time-management skills," and potentially "I don't care if you have to wade through absolute drivel to give me a mark." Not polite, and encourages your TA to do a half-baked job of marking to match your half-baked job of writing.

What's better? Editing your assignment. But failing that, just a quick "sorry" before "I didn't have time to edit," can make a huge difference in tone, thanks! And if you're submitting a buggy program rather than an unedited essay, some information about the known bugs can go a long way towards good will.

Corollary: That said, while I'm suggesting an apology here, you don't really have to apologize so much for asking for help during office hours. I like helping people (I just hate marking) and we're being paid by you, to help you. So I like the politeness of it, but please please please don't feel guilty about pulling me away from whatever I'm doing to kill time until someone needs help!

3. Don't just email the first TA on the list or the easiest to find TA every time you have a problem.

Why shouldn't you do this? Half the mail I get from students I have to forward to the other TAs because someone else was in charge of that question, or that tutorial section, or wahtever. Waiting for me to notice and forward the mail on delays you getting a response (and introduces more places where your mail might get forgotten), so it's really better for both of us if you get it right!

What's better? Try to figure out who marked which assignment and contact the appropriate TA. Ideally this would be easy to find, but university courseware is often terrible, so if it's not, try asking or just email all the TAs so that the appropriate one can respond. The latter is what I do if I get an email from a student whose problem is not mine to deal with, anyhow.

Side note: I get the lion's share of email from students, and they often tell me it's because I'm the most memorable, friendly, approachable or helpful TA. Which is sweet and a great ego-boost, but no matter how much you like me at a teacher, I'm still not always the right person to email!

Heh. Not that I'm going to win any awards for being approachable after this post!

4. Don't be unprofessional. This term I learned that one of my students can't spell a word that most definitely should never have come up in our interactions, let alone in one of his assignments. And that's only one of many not cool things I've seen this term (and others, but this one has been particularly bad).

Why shouldn't you do this? Do you really need to ask? It looks bad, and can even hurt your future when someone says, "Hey, what do you remember about student A?" and the answer is, "he won the award for most swearing in assignment 3 and then whined through the second half of term." Seriously, we gossip about you within the school, and a recommendation from a TA can decide whether you get the honours project supervisor you wanted, or potentially even the job you wanted.

What's better? Being professional and being polite. You don't have to be absurdly formal all the time, and you can express your displeasure regarding the course if you need to, but if you can't read your assignment to someone else's grandparents or a potential employer, you're probably doing something wrong.

Edit: See the comments below (click the dreamwidth link on lj) for more excellent tips provided by others!

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