Teaching reflections

Yesterday’s class session went well. FINALLY! I felt like I was
_really_ doing something. What made the difference?

  • Attendance. The professor emphasized the importance of the lab, so
    all the students showed up. The previous two lab saw half the seats
    empty, which distracted me a bit. A full house gave me more energy
    to work with and more questions to field during the lab portion.
  • Preparation. I remembered to tell students about the detailed lab
    handouts prepared by the previous teaching assistant. The students
    also spent some time working on the project, which gave them plenty
    of questions to ask.
  • Timing. The students had the theoretical background from the
    lecture _and_ the practical need for the tool (even if it was a
    need created by the project definition). The previous two lab
    sessions were a little too early, and the lack of theory and need
    confused the students. This time, though, everything fit.

That was the third time I’d covered roughly the same material, and the
difference really showed. I learned from my mistakes and a few brave
students’ questions, and I figured out what aspects I needed to focus
on in order to address their concerns.

I was supposed to introduce JESS, the Java Expert System Shell, but I
felt that focusing on Weka for the entire session would leave the
students with better understanding. That was a good call. There’s
enough time to briefly introduce JESS next session, anyway.

What can I do better next time? Preparation is something within my
control: always make sure that learning is motivated by something and
that students have written instructions that they can follow at their
own pace. Attendance and timing are things I can address with the
professor’s help. I’ll also take comfort in the fact that things get a
little easier the more I teach them, so I shouldn’t be too worried
when I completely bomb the first time I teach something! =)