TITLE: Two Thoughts on Teaching AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 03, 2018 10:50 AM DESC: ----- BODY: ... from my morning reading. First, a sentence from Bryan Caplan, about one of his influences, philosopher Michael Huemer:
I think what's great about this book, and really all of Mike's work, is he always tries to start off with premises that make sense to people who don't already agree, and then try to get somewhere.
I value people who take the time to construct arguments in this way. It's surprisingly rare in academic discourse and public discourse. Teachers usually learn pretty quickly, though, that the most effective way to teach is start where your students are: recognize the state of their knowledge and respect their current beliefs. I try to remind myself of this principle regularly during a course, or I'm likely to go off track. Second, the closing exchange from a 1987 interview with Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick has been talking about how the critics' views of his films tend to evolve over time. The interviewer wrapped up the conversation with:
Well, you don't make it easy on viewers or critics. You create strong feelings, but you won't give us any easy answers.
That's because I don't have any easy answers.
That seems like a pretty good aspiration to have for teaching, that people can say it creates strong feelings but doesn't give any easy answers. Much of teaching is simpler than this, of course, especially in a field such as computer science. A closure is something that we can understand as it is, as is, say, an algorithm for parsing a stream of tokens. But after you learn a few concepts and start trying to build or understand a complex system, easy answers are much harder to come by. Even so, I do hope that students leave my courses with strong feelings about their craft. Those feelings may not match my own, and they'll surely still be evolving, but they will be a product of the student engaging with some big ideas and trying them out on challenging problems. Maybe if I keep reading interested articles on the exercise the bike and making connections to my craft, I can get this computer science thing down better. -----