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Engage, Individualize, and Challenge
I feel that many university level courses have become “one-size-fits-all,” where professors do not take the students’ goals into account. Therefore, I make it a point to learn my students’ names and find out their individual career objectives. In Web-Application Development (ITIS 2300), many of my freshman and sophomore students were still uncertain about their career paths. Their first assignment (“Different Hats”) was were to go to corporate websites and research job postings for web developers, business analysts, project managers, network administrators, and other roles that were involved in web application development. Throughout the semester, I mentored students to align their career goals to their strengths. For instance, I encouraged some students to consider a role as a business analyst because they enjoyed technology, were articulate writers, and hated programming. In addition, I taught Management Information Systems (INFO 3130) to college-level seniors, most of whom were not MIS majors. One common complaint students have about this course is that the material is not relevant to their future careers in marketing, accounting, finance, international business, or other business related fields. To mitigate this, I divided project groups by majors and assigned students a software demo of a functional business system that was relevant to their fields. As an example, marketing majors chose to demo Salesforce, a leading Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application. The end result was that each student realized how information technology was relevant to their major and their future career. Because I have industry experience and my students know that I am interested in their personal end goals, they often contact me for advice even months after taking my class.
While my students generally like my teaching style, they have never called any of my classes easy. In fact, I have a reputation among students for having the most challenging section (if taught simultaneously by multiple instructors) and heaviest course loads (across all classes a student is enrolled in for a semester). I do not believe in assigning busy work; my assignments are difficult yet they are a practical application of the course materials. For instance, the end deliverable for my web development course was a fully functional personal portfolio website to showcase students’ experience and skills to potential employers. Though this was a rigorous goal, many students informed me that their website played a large role in obtaining a summer internship or entry level job. One student said, “I entered her class without any web development skills, and shortly after completing her class, I was able to obtain a position at a web development company.” I believe that students need to be pushed to achieve their full potential. My students complain during the semester, but in the end, they are surprised by how much they have learned and are proud of their accomplishments.
Over time, I have realized and gladly accepted the fact that challenging students also means challenging myself. In most cases, I have created all of my own lecture materials, assignments, and examples for the courses I teach. I know that more assignments means more grading but I will not commit to teaching a class that I do not believe is conducive for my students to learn. Therefore, most of my classes have weekly assignments. I don’t foresee myself ever teaching a course that consists of three scantron exams as the only way to test a students’ mastery of the course. Because I ask so much of my students, I also make sure they know I am approachable for help. My office hours often morph into study sessions with 3-10 students. I help students on a first-come-first-serve basis and then have those students in turn assist their classmates because I believe one of the best ways to learn is to teach. Part of the reason I enjoy teaching is because I continue to learn as well.