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Teaching Statement:

Three Teaching Tenets and Classroom Trust

Chadwick A. Wingrave, Virginia Tech

Educating students is a three part process of: 1) communicating theoretical and practical knowledge, 2) showing how to learn from tools and colleagues and 3) cultivating critical thinking skills. The ability to do this can be elusive and greatly relies on the educator's experience and ability to build trust with students by: 1) their handling of the class, 2) creating valuable assignments and 3) being consistent in grading. While I have no solo experience teaching, I have experienced leading classes for other professors and multiple teaching assistantships. Though this is no substitute for actual experience, it has formed, along with the successful classes I have experienced as a student, my understanding of classroom dynamics and ideas of what leads to successful learning experiences. Also, I believe that teaching happens in many situations outside of the classroom. For instance, the training of the multiple research assistants I have had the pleasure of working with and interacting with students throughout their research career.

Teaching Tenets

First, I believe in-class lectures provide a theoretical skeleton and out of class assignments flesh-out the theory with practical knowledge. We as educators are tasked to graduate students who have practical knowledge applicable to current problems and a theoretical framework to learn new knowledge to avoid obsolescence. Just as a course in literature could not be expected to convey the beauty of the written word without firsthand reading, so too does a program in the science of computing rely on a student to experience real problems to understand the theoretical underpinnings of the field. Secondly, I believe in the value of teaching how to learn from tools and colleagues. Students should know how to look for help, which tools resolve their problems and when to realize it is time to ask others. Having experienced the change in computing due to the Internet, I have seen a shift in problem solving from the individual to the community. My personal experience has been that time spent individually solving a problem helps resolving future problems by learning incidental knowledge and how to be a problem solver. That said, group learning and student's teaching each other enables knowledge sharing and understanding the many ways to approach problems. Thirdly, I believe in the value of cultivating critical thinking skills in students. Students will encounter real world problems that do not have simple answers. They should see the trade-offs in problems and come to practical solutions based upon their theoretical understanding. This can be improved by requiring them to not just provide a simple answer but to explain why that answer is the most valid and others are not. This is good practice for when they leave school and have to evaluate new methods and tools in their career.

Classroom Trust

First, trust between the professor and students is the key factor I intend to rely on as an educator. It is never easily gained, only easily lost. Trust is gained when an educator is prepared to teach a class, is organized in the management of the material and is available to the students. The students recognize the professor is interested in the class and respond with a matching level of interest and enthusiasm. Inserting experiences from active research and discussing the reasoning behind ideas creates a curiosity in the students which improves learning.

Secondly, trust is gained when assignments are seen as valuable and relevant to the understanding of the curriculum and an important use of the student's time. Assigning work students see as busy or extraneous work takes away from time that could be spent on other learning tasks. In my experience, students respect and appreciate courses with heavy workloads if they can see them as valuable. Being open to modifying assignments to incorporate student interests or active research helps to retain motivation and leads to better learning experiences. Personally, I cultivated a curse for turning class projects into huge learning experiences such as the BIRPO project which was well on its way to being a thesis project in scope. The experience helped me learn more than just the course material; much about myself and my discipline has been learned while working frantically before a deadline. I believe others can do the same. Thirdly, trust is gained in consistency of grading where hard work is repaid with either a good grade or specific reasons for failure and an opportunity for redemption. Grades are a reflection of the student's understanding and low grades show where improvement can occur. While a teaching assistant in a project-based course on Human Computer Interaction, I failed the majority of the class on their first deliverable and gave them a new deadline with a reduced potential grade. Throughout the remainder of the semester, my office hours were packed from all students in the class, not because they were outraged but because they were seeking help and wanting to discuss class material. In the end, the grade distribution was high and I felt they truly understood the material. This required little extra time on my part, mostly up front, but greatly impacted their learning and mine as well, forcing me to think more critically about the subject matter.

Teachable Courses

There are several courses I would be interested in teaching. A Human Computer Interaction course, if it does not already exist, would be taught as a mix between lectures, student presentations and a course-long project that addresses common human-computer problems, like organizational issues or workflow, with a project customer. I would also be interested in creating an upper-level group project course about designing interfaces in 3D space. This would cover the theory, methodology, equipment and tools of design for the Human Computer Interaction, Virtual Environments, Augmented Reality, Computer Vision, Wearable Computing and Ubicomp fields. I would encourage students from many different backgrounds to join such as computer science, electrical and computer engineering, fashion, art, graphic design, psychology, industrial engineering, architecture, etc. The goal would be a project of research merit and a paper to be submitted to an appropriate conference. I also feel qualified to teach undergraduate introduction to programming, Object Oriented Design and Operating Systems courses among others.

Conclusion

Teaching is not an easy task and requires a tremendous amount of time. It is about conveying theory and creating good practical assignments. It is about teaching how to learn from tools and colleagues and teaching how to be critical thinkers. It is about build trust between the educator and the students by being prepared to teach, creating useful assignments and being consistent in grading. Teaching is both intrinsically rewarding and an opportunity to find motivated students. I consider computer science to be immensely interesting. I wish to share this viewpoint with students so they can appreciate the field as I do. Having watched my father teach Introduction to Chemistry at the university level, to students forced to take his course, I have learned that even the most dry material can be made palatable and understandable with good approaches and trust between the students and educator.

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