TITLE: The Trust Between Student and Teacher AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: September 04, 2012 4:31 PM DESC: ----- BODY: or, "Where's Your Github Repo?" The last couple of class sessions have taught me a lot about what my students know and what they are ready to learn about programming. As a result, I'm adjusting my expectations and plans for the course. Teachers have to be agile. A couple of my students are outliers. They have a lot of programming experience, sometimes with relatively exotic languages like Clojure. I hope that their time with me this semester is as useful to them as it is to less experienced students. Even the more advanced students usually have a lot to learn about building big systems, and especially about OOP. After an interesting conversation with one of the more advanced students today after class, I was reminded of the role that trust plays in learning. A student has to trust that his or her professor knows enough of the right stuff to teach the class. Most students trust their professors implicitly, based on their academic degrees and their employment at a university. (*) That makes teaching much easier. If I as a teacher start every new topic or even every course having to establish my credibility, or build trust from scratch, progress is slow. Once the course gets going, every interaction between professor or student either reinforces that implicit trust or diminishes it. That's one of the most important features of every class day, and one we professors don't always think about explicitly as we prepare. Working with more advanced students can be a challenge, especially in a course aimed at less experienced students. Much of what we talk about in class is at a more basic level than the one on which the advanced students are already working. "Why listen to a prof talk about the design of a method when I've already written thousands of lines of code in a complex language?" That's a fair question. It must be tough for some students at that level to accord the same level of implicit trust to the professor as a beginner. This wasn't a problem for me when I was among the more advanced students in the class. I found it easy to trust my professors' expertise. That's how I was raised. But not all students have that initial disposition. I've learned over the years to empathize more in this regard with the experienced students in my classes and to make efforts to earn and maintain their trust. Without that, I have little chance of helping them to learn anything in my course. Of course, we also live increasingly in a world in which the tools of our trade give us a vehicle for establishing trust. I love it when students or prospective students ask me, "What are you working on in your spare time?" I'm waiting for the day when our upper-division students routinely ask their profs, "Where's your Github repo?" ~~~~ (*) The department head in me is acutely aware that that the department also puts its credibility on the line every time a professor walks in the classroom. That is a big challenge even for departments with strong faculties. -----