Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On teaching

This semester, I was fortunate to teach an online class, CSCI 4609 Processes, Programming, and Languages: Usability of Open Source Software. This was an extension of my Master's degree capstone, where I examined the usability of open source software. I have long wanted to do some teaching, and this was my first opportunity. I learned a lot from this experience, and I wanted to share a few thoughts on how teaching this class helped me become a better IT leader:

Years ago, a mentor helped me realize that an effective leader delegates. I used to struggle with delegation; I always thought I could do it better myself. I feared that someone else might do the task incorrectly, or at least not to my preference. But we can't do everything; we need to pass on assignments to those in our teams, and trust that they will do the right thing.

In teaching, delegation means giving out class assignments: read these articles and summarize them, then apply that knowledge in this other analysis. I always expected my students to do the work. If they had questions, they could ask, but they needed to do the work themselves. This semester, I delegated 22 times to 10 students; that's 220 individual delegations!
Similar to delegation, I developed a new sense of independence. Not independence for myself, but accepting the independence of my students. In most weeks, I gave two assignments (typically an article summary and an analysis) both due at the end of the week. Now, if I were working on the assignments, I would probably read the articles on day 1, then post my summary on day 2, and start work on the analysis on day 3. But that's me. My students work differently than I do, and I had to accept that.

Each "week" opened on Tuesday and closed on Monday night. I quickly learned not to expect anything from students until Sunday night, with the majority of assignments posted on Monday afternoon or evening. That's not how I would do it. I had to adjust my expectations, to accept the independence of my students to get the work done on their own schedule. I also had to accept failure, because sometimes failure is the best learning experience.
When you ask someone to do something for you, how clearly do you set expectations? In setting assignments, I found that different students can interpret the same instructions in any number of ways. If my students misunderstood the assignment, that's sort of my fault. So I learned clarity in my instructions and in my recorded lectures. What articles am I asking you to summarize? How will I grade your submission? Where do the points come from?

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