Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Rewards of Teaching

The Rewards of Teaching

I have not written anything so far about the part-time teaching that I do twice a week at a local university. I teach an information systems course for first year undergraduate students. Now that I am finally free(!) from my regular job, I can reflect a bit on my experience in teaching.

Teaching can be a very rewarding thing to do because if you do it well, you influence many people's lives. Financially speaking, the money that I get out of it is not exactly worth my time, but to me it is an opportunity to serve the community. And I am thankful for this privilege.

My students are very young--18, 20 at most. They are in many ways smarter than I was when I was their age because things like computers and Internet are already part of their everyday lives. I only learnt how to use a computer during my final year in university.

I was never a computer science or information systems student--I was an engineering geek. Everything I know about information systems is learnt through experience. So it is also very educational for me to see how a regular information systems course is taught based on the official syllabus. It amuses me sometimes to see how the subject is presented in textbooks: It is so rigid and detached from reality. I can understand why some students feel bored.

Information systems is a subject that I can teach without much preparation because I deal with it everyday in practical customer situations. But to be able to teach the subject well, one still needs to do some amout of preparation.

I usually build about 40 Powerpoint slides to fill up each two-hour lecture session. I have to think how to explain difficult concepts in a way that is easily understood. I try to illustrate them with everyday examples.

Sometimes I feel like a film director trying to determine the pacing of a two-hour movie. At which point should you hit them with the really hard facts? How do you win over the audience and set them up for the kill?

Every lesson needs to have an introduction, development, a climax and a final denouement. You have to bear in mind that the attention span of the audience waxes and wanes over the two-hour period. You have to interspede dull moments with more upbeat ones; you have to engage the audience.

I do not think I succeed very well as a teacher, but I try my best. I am perhaps a bit too lenient with my students. But I guess it is alright--they are young and will grow up to be useful individuals. At 18, you are still struggling with the demons of adolescence. It challenges me greatly to think from their point of view: Words and concepts that I'm so used to spouting in front of my customers have to be reexamined, because what is crystal clear to me may be hazy in their young minds.

Like what I've mentioned in a previous blog entry, the best way to learn is to teach. Teaching also makes me a better IT professional. I realised that what is sometimes obvious to me may not be so to my customer. Every two hour session to me is another training in public-speaking.

As a lecturer, I a get to learn so much--perhaps even more than what my students learn from me. I cannot help but be grateful.

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