Department of
Information Technology

Dr. Jack Zheng's Personal Website

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Teaching

Teaching Belief/Philosophy and Practices

My fundamental teaching belief is that good teaching (the instructor side) comes with good learning (the student side). They are two sides of the same coin. In an ideal education environment, I try to achieve the following three basic related goals:

  1. Generate and sustain student interest.
  2. Maintain a balance on teaching and learning.
  3. Provide complete educational experience beyond courses.

1. Generate and sustain student interest.

I believe that "interest" is one of the most important and common driver for learning (and other activities). Generally, people will devote more time to the things they are interested in, and will be more active and proactive. In turn they experience more and learn more. However, this is also the most difficult task. Interest may be vague, dynamic, and inconsistent; and pure interest driven may not be good. It is an art to maintain a reasonable level of interest and effectively utilize it.

My general principles are personalized learning and learning relevance. Some of my practices are:

  • In higher level courses, I usually design a customized term project for students to explore their own interests and learn more. Each project is different and unique, and I work closely with my students. Oftern some projects have real world settings.
  • In advanced topic course, I usually prepare elective modules that students can select to complete based on their own interests and career goals.
  • Set up chanllenging questions and tasks throughout the learning duration for some students to earn bonus points.
  • Relate to the real world and current events: talking about relevant news and events, using popular short video clips, using real cases or examples in daily life where students are most familiar with (they are usually more active when they are more familiar with those things), etc.
  • Prepare in-class interactive guided exercises to keep students' attention. An example is the conceptual modeling exercise I use in my database and business intelligence classes.

2. Maintain a balance on teaching and learning.

Teaching and learning are interactive. A preferred teaching (and learning) environment is built on a balanced information exchange between the instructor and students. Neither instructor nor student should dominate each other. This involves two general concepts:

  1. Active learning: focus the responsibility of learning on learners. I try best to engage students in the learning process, which consists of cycles of read-act-think. The more they think and act, the more they learn.
  2. Collaborative learning: features close interaction among students and between students and instructors. I usually teach and learn with students.

My major practices:

  • Problem based teaching/learning: for example, use guided exercises to analyze and solve typical problems and illustrate concepts and theories.
  • Project based learning: use a term project which involves multiple skills and knowledge areas. My of these projects have a real world organizational setting.
  • Heuristic Teaching ("of or constituting an educational method in which learning takes place through discoveries that result from investigations made by the student"): I try not to give direct answers but to offer hints and refences.
  • Set up SNS-like discussion boards or blog sites and encourage online participation; encourage students-help-students and reward their effort.
  • Co-lecture: incorporate student presentations with lectures. I work closely with students to prepare and present together in class.
  • Student research and presentation project for higher level courses, where students have to research the subject and solve the problem.

In this process, rather seeing myself as a lecturer, I see myself as a/an:

  • Organizer: I organize and manage learning plan by focusing on fundamental and important knowledge in a limited learning period.
  • Facilitator: I assist students in a reasonable way of thinking and doing within the subject domain.
  • Resources: I provide sources that potentially extend and expand students' understanding of the subjects.

3. Provide complete educational experience beyond classrooms and courses.

College education (teaching) goes beyond simple aggregation of classroom or online lectures. Courses are only a part of a complete education environment that the college provides (Barr 1995). I often use real world projects which provide unique and valuable opportunities for students. Out-of-class student engagement is another important aspect. Student organizations, special interest groups, specially arranged projects, blogging, student advising, managed internships, student research and external competitions: all of these are effective ways to learn and gain experience. It also helps to build up the trust between students and instructors.

Reference

Barr, Robert B., and John Tagg, From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education, Change, Vol. 27, No. 6 (Nov. - Dec., 1995), pp. 12-25

Bonwell, C. C., and Eison, J. A. 1991. “Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ERIC Digest.,” ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports, The George Washington University.

Smith, B., and J. MacGregor, “What is Collaborative Learning?,” in Goodsell, A., M. Mahler, V. Tinto, B.L.Smith, and J. MacGreger, (Eds), Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education (pp. 9–22). University Park, PA: National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning and Assessment, 1992.

Expectation for students

Besides all other expectations, this one is important: attitude.

Learning is fun, but it is not always fun. Students should anticipate the difficulties and frustrations during the learning process. There is no other way to get around. You need to get the work done despite all kinds of problems. The last thing you want to do is looking for excuses and blaming others. Once you get through it, you will enjoy the experience and feel more confident.

Last I want to share some words from the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

"If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you'd be surprised by how well things can work out... Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won't make us happier."