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Teaching Statement

[ teaching statement | some thoughts ]

"Everything that can be expressed at all can be expressed clearly."
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Teaching Statement

Teaching is fun and reward for me for several reasons.

Education is invigorating for the spirit and intellectually challenging for both student and instructor. Preparing a topic for teaching forces me to get an understanding deep enough to allow me summarizing, prioritizing, presenting, and discussing the subject - as opposed to industrial work which constrains one to only acquire the facts immediately relevant to carry out a particular task, without time for details and background.

Moreover I feel reward in contributing to graduating well-trained, responsible IT specialists who meet industry's requirements for producing the software we all daily rely on. Extensive own IT recruiting during my managerial career has made me aware of skills needed and not always found.

Conceptualization of learning

"Knowledge is a skill or habit to be learned." How can I assist the student in acquiring it? There is a useful déjà-vu: My own quest to penetrate the matter when I was a student myself. Whenever I teach a subject I make myself aware of the situation I was in when first being confronted with it and which take- up problems me and my peers had - what was easy, what was hard? Where did I have mental barriers? What concept, what phrasing contributed best to my understanding? Many times I was able to anticipate mental traps into which students were about to run, and succeeded in getting them right on track. Real classroom situations of course are complicated by individuality - learning is individual, content, and context specific. Understanding the diversity of learning styles and student experiences therefore is key, and any good teacher has to be attentive to these factors.

In my view, education must focus on refining the students' ability to solve problems, to find and apply prefabricated tools and methods, and must de-emphasize the enumeration of facts and solutions to learners. While there is a stock of fundamental knowledge in CS that must be readily available, it is essential for students to understand the strategy that leads to a result, to be able to adapt the strategy to their own approach of mastering a challenge, and for the talented ones to advance the methods and tools available.

Conceptualization of teaching

My task as a teacher is to present the syllabus in a well-structured orchestration, optimized for the students' perception while taking into account their individual variety. Along with teaching students how to use well-established methods I encourage them to not blindly apply the immediate idea, but to transcend it, consider alternatives. Despite the large body of relevant and important knowledge I reserve room for discussion. I not only make myself available, but actively seek personal contact to create a milieu of trustful, intensive communication.

Goals for students

My overall goal is that students have learned the subject matter and they are able to use the knowledge acquired in class to solve the real-world problems. Specifically, I want to give prospective software developers the gut feeling of what good craftsmanship means in the field of software engineering - user-friendly, stable, reliable, maintainable code - beyond the goals dominating industrial practice: fast programmed, fast running (I use to tell my students to program as diligently as if coding their own pacemaker). Skills in collaborative work using state-of-the-art tools and social intelligence likewise form indispensable add-ons. Not the least I want students to leave university with a sense of professional ethics and responsibility. Finally, I want my students to truly enjoy learning.

Implementation of the philosophy

While it is upon the individual student to take up what is offered and make the best out of it, I am excited by the prospect of broadening students' horizons and deepening their scientific knowledge and technical skills. I find it useful to ground lectures and exercises on a representative real-life example, strip it to the core for the start and then incrementally re-enrich it to obtain challenges of increasing difficulty. Of course, it is too much to expect that all, or even a majority of students will absorb the most difficult material adequately through reading and lecture alone. This is what seminars, group projects, and also office hours are for. Group projects can stimulate peer-to-peer discussions. My role as an instructor is to create a communicative milieu and to encourage discussion participants to present an original point of view that can be sustained with logical arguments. Additionally, take-home challenges allow students to dream and stretch; here it is the demonstration of thinking itself that is rewarded, rather than being exam topic.

Office hours are a good time to learn student names and to show sincere interest in each individual. It is particularly important in large classes that students feel the instructor cares about them. Casual visits to the computer rooms are another good opportunity for contact outside formal lecture. Students who feel that a teacher is fair, approachable, and sincere will usually make a more determined effort to excel in their assignments.

Coming from Practical Computer Science, I cannot stress enough the need for involving industrial partners in career-oriented education. Sometimes the supervisor can play the role of the customer to teach students how to deal with vague requirements, to change a requirement at a later project stage in a way that can be overcome easily only if a clean, modular design has been applied. On graduate level I intend to build on work by Henhapl/Schroeder who have developed a framework combining student software development with real industry projects. Further, in my opinion temporary industry jobs are an indispensable supplement to academic training; the teacher can contribute as facilitator, mentor, and mediator. My advantage is that I am at home in both worlds.

Within academia I am used to exposing students to ongoing research and to have them participate in the exchange of ideas within the research group. Whenever appropriate I want to intensify external research collaborations through student exchange. At the same time this is one of the vehicles to identify, encourage, and nurture new academic blood.

Motivation can originate from practical relevance to the student's envisaged career, from conceptual beauty, or simply from the intellectual challenge posed. I consider each of them an adequate vehicle to knowledge, hence in lectures I strive to offer various "hooks" to students for their personal choice; in smaller circles and individual talks (such as thesis supervision) I try to find and address a student's individual motivation line. My lecture style communicates my fun in combining theory and practice, concepts and implementation. In individual conversation I prefer to actively engage the student in searching for the answer, rather than simply stating the final result. While this requires more patience and effort from both parties in the short term, it improves the students' skills and confidence in their abilities in the long term.

I feel comfortable and I am interested in teaching CS at both undergraduate and graduate level, including but not limited to topics like databases and information systems (emphasizing web-enabled technology), algorithms and data structures, formal languages, graph theory, and programming. Doing so, I see it natural to obtain my students' assessment of my teaching style as valuable input for reflection and adjustment.

Professional growth plan

Teaching ability is not a one-time acquisition, but a continuous process. Therefore I constantly exercise a critical review of my lectures based on my own reflection as well as feedback from the students. Here is a non-exhaustive list of directions for the future:

  • Having had the opportunity to get in touch with many current trends in IT industry, I am interested in broadening the underpinning background knowledge; developing lectures on such topics form a good basis on the one hand to consolidate my knowledge and on the other hand to complement theory with real-life experience.
  • I intend to continue to find new ways to connect with my students and get them interested in the more complex questions.
  • Having extensive experience in the didactic use of e-media like Powerpoint, I am interested in developing courses integrated in sophisticated learning platforms such as WebCT utilizing communication and learning tools.
  • I want to work on making an Internet-connected computer available, in a suitable form, during examinations as an optional aid for solving problems. This approach is closer to real world situations in which professionals rely on all available resources to perform their duties.

Literature

A. F. Grasha: Teaching with style: A practical guide to enhancing learning by understanding teaching and learning styles. Alliance Publishers, 1996, p. 35

Past activities & educational experience

  • Invited Courses
    • Graphics Database Systems (2-day course and workshop), Academia Sinica, Beijing / PR China, September 1991
    • Abstract Data Types in Geometric Modeling (2-day course), Universidade de Coimbra, Portugal, May 1988 (EU Erasmus program)
  • Industry Seminars
    • Informationsmanagement mit Datenbanken (lecture), Conf. Management Assistants and Secretaries, SMI / Euroforum, München/Frankfurt/Wien/Berlin, 1998 - 2001
    • Engineering Databases (2-day seminar) ZGDV (Computer Graphics Centre) Darmstadt, 1988 - 1992 (together with colleagues)

Many of the lectures have been assessed by the audience; in almost all cases evaluation was above peer group average.

Additionally there were numerous industry seminars to topics related to databases, Knowledge Management, etc. This is the response of Boehringer-Ingelheim to a seminar "Knowledge Management" given to the IT Management Germany:

"Ihr Vortrag zeigte in Stil und Gehalt, daß Sie sich mit dem Thema professionell und langjährig auseinandersetzen. Die von mir gewünschten Inhalte kamen in einer didaktisch hervorragenden Qualität "herüber". Damit wurde das gestellte Ziel, in das Thema einzuführen und Ansatzpunkte zum Einstieg aufzuzeigen, voll erreicht. Dafür herzlichen Dank."
["Your presentation showed in style and contents that you have dealt with the topic in a professional and long-standing manner. The contents I had wanted was communicated in a didactically outstanding quality. Thereby the anticipated goal, to introduce to the topic and highlight first steps how we can start, was fully achieved. My cordial thanks for this."]

Some Thoughts - oder: Kauderwelsch gut, alles gut?

Bernd Schmidt meint:

    Eine schwierige, wolkige und unanschauliche Sprache deutet fast immer darauf hin, daß der entsprechende Sachverhalt noch nicht ausreichend strukturiert und durchdacht und damit auch noch nicht ausreichend verstanden worden ist.

Philipp Melanchthon sagt in seiner Arbeit "Oratio de studiis linguae Graecae":

    Wie die Gewächse der Erde, wenn der Same unedel oder verdorben ist, kümmerlich aufgehen, sodaß Pflanzen und Erträge verkommen, so verderben auch die Lehrinhalte, ist die Sprache unrein, heruntergekommen oder fehlerhaft; die Wahrheit selbst wird verdunkelt und in ihr Gegenteil verkehrt...
    Wem es also in der Lehre auf Wahrheit und Gewißheit ankommt, der muß sich fest vornehmen, unbedingt auf die Reinheit und Deutlichkeit seines sprachlichen Ausdrucks zu achten...
    Denn fast immer und überall ist eine verworrene oder verbildete Sprache mit Irrtümern und fanatischen Meinungen verbunden.

Und Ludwig Wittgenstein hat nicht nur gesagt

    Wovon man nicht reden kann, darüber muß man schweigen.

sondern auch

    Was sich überhaupt sagen läßt, läßt sich klar sagen.

Literature

  • Bernd Schmidt: Formalismus, gut und schön? Die Sprache der Wissenschaft. Simulation in Passau, Heft 2, 1995, Lehrstuhl für Operations Research und Systemtheorie
  • Philipp Melanchton: Glaube und Bildung. Reclam 1989
  • www.melanchthon.de
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein: Tractatus logico-philosophicus. edition suhrkamp 12, 1978

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