My objectives as a teacher are threefold: to best prepare students for the profession, to share my love of learning, and to make a difference in someone’s life. From the students’ perspective, the most important of these objectives is preparation for the profession since their goal is to gain the necessary knowledge and preparation for a job. My industry experience prior to entering academia, as well as my close ties to the local information technology (IT) community through area employers and former graduates, provide me with an awareness of what employers expect from their staff. Preparation for the profession requires the skills to pursue lifelong learning, critical and analytical thinking skills, communication skills, and the ability to use current technologies.
- Lifelong learning is essential for anyone involved in IT because technology and tools constantly change and evolve. Thus, students must be taught how to independently learn new skills, an ability that will enable them to adapt throughout their professional lives. This ability is coveted by IT employers, who seek and treasure self-reliant employees.
- Courses must be designed to develop and hone students’ critical and analytical thinking skills. IT students must be capable of reasoning out precise solutions to unstructured problems and clearly expressing those solutions in a form that the computer can understand.
- Instructors must also provide students with an opportunity to improve their communication skills, since IT graduates will be required to interact with both those who authorize and those who use software and systems. Exercises requiring the development of software documentation and conceptual models help to supplement these skills.
- Students should also be instructed in the use of current technology and practices, since this is required for entry into the profession. However, such knowledge has long-term benefit only if students are also given sufficient grounding to adapt to new technologies over time.
My philosophy involves using a variety of teaching techniques to achieve the above objectives. Concentrating on teaching best practices and concepts rather than merely focusing on the latest tool requires students to learn how to reason out the different ways of implementing those concepts as required by the wide variety of IT tools, a valuable skill that facilitates lifelong learning. Assignments should be designed to reinforce course concepts, but also to simulate as closely as possible an enterprise experience. In this way not only do students receive meaningful hands-on experience, but that experience serves as a vehicle for demonstrating and practicing basic principles.
However, students must not only learn the course concepts but must also be able to apply their learning to real job situations upon graduation, so experience with tools is essential. Therefore, I believe that courses should be heavily reliant on hands-on, interactive, goal-driven active learning and project-based learning assignments. If carefully planned, homework exercises and functional projects can reinforce core concepts while at the same time providing students with experience using the latest software tools. Both “live” projects commissioned by local companies and simulated projects based on real-world companies or scenarios can be structured to insure that students gain exposure to the complexity that they will encounter upon entering the work force. In addition, projects in advanced courses should require students to work in collaborative teams, because recruiters often express a preference for students with experience working as part of a team.
IT is a challenging field in which to teach because course content must evolve to keep pace with constant technological advances. I believe that every lecture must be meticulously researched so that the instructor knows the topic thoroughly. IT courses also require that assignment specifications are painstakingly and explicitly written to insure that students gain experience with the course topics that the assignment is intended to reinforce. Further, the assignments themselves must be implemented by the professor before they are assigned to insure that the specifications do not require something that is impossible or unreasonably hard, and to provide students with an example after which to model their solution. Three of my course projects have been deemed sufficiently challenging and detailed to merit publication in international refereed journals.
I’ve always believed that the most effective teachers are those who can capture and keep students’ attention. I believe that humor can be an effective tool for keeping students interested, and one student commented on a recent evaluation, “He's funny and that keeps my attention.” Enthusiastically delivered lectures also help keep student focus. Because I have a passion for teaching and sincerely value what I teach, it is natural for me to be enthusiastic in the classroom. Students notice and respond to this. One student evaluation comment noted, “His excitement for the subject matter helped me to really like it.” Actively involving students in lectures also helps to get their attention. One of my strengths as a teacher has always been my ability to develop a strong rapport with students. I enjoy interacting with students and I always learn each student’s name as quickly as possible so I can address them by name when I ask questions in class or solicit their feedback. Knowing that they may be personally called on to participate at any time keeps their attention. Students quickly come to realize that I genuinely care about them, not just as students but as individuals. When students miss consecutive class meetings I make it a practice to send them an e-mail message to check on them. Students are encouraged to provide constructive feedback about courses, and often do so because they know that I listen and want to improve my courses. I encourage students to ask questions in class, during office hours, and via email. They know that I am available to them seven days a week. I also aggressively try to find internships and job opportunities for my students. For me, this one-on-one interaction with my students is essential for their learning and for my enjoyment of teaching. They generally seem to respond by working harder.
I also believe that it is important for teachers to practice what they preach. Many of my courses focus on web-based development, and I provide a wealth of online lecture notes that are designed to not only convey lecture material but to also provide examples of good practices and innovative ways to use information technology. Many of my notes include a “Try It!” section that allows students to try out lecture topics within the online notes. I have also developed tutorial software that uses animation and audio clips to demonstrate core concepts. Social media has been explored as a teaching aid both in my classes and in my research. Teachers must constantly strive to become better, and technology is just one tool that I harness.
Many IT courses focus on problem-solving skills, so assignments must be designed to test students’ ability to develop solutions to unstructured problems. The more advanced the course, the more challenging the problem should be. Large projects can be divided into deliverables in order to focus on specific skills. Assignment objectives should clearly state the skills that the assignment is designed to assess and grading rubrics should be provided for every assignment or deliverable so that students know in advance exactly what is expected of them and that grading will be consistent and equitable. IT assignments can be designed such that students can easily determine if their assignments function correctly and meet assignment specifications.
Motivation for Teaching
I began by stating that I had three primary objectives as a teacher. However, I focused almost exclusively on the first of the three, perhaps because the other two are selfish. I want to share with students my love of learning. I want to make a difference in their lives. I find it fulfilling when former students write to tell me that they are making an immediate impression on their employers, and they attribute it to my teaching. I found it even more thrilling when an employee of an entrepreneurial former student wrote to thank me for making her job possible. To know that you have had a positive impact on even one individual’s life makes all the hard work and preparation worth the effort. I take my role as an educator very seriously and work to deliver the best possible teaching product I can. I believe that teaching is a sacred trust and responsibility, and I approach each course and each student with the respect, compassion, and effort that this belief merits.