Do you remember your first year teaching? How about your second? Maybe you’ve never taught, but always wondered what it’d be like starting out? I recently spoke with Professor Andrew “Drew” DeOrio from the University of Michigan, who provided me with fascinating insight into the early days of a professor’s teaching career.
Drew has been teaching for a little over a year as a professor with all of his previous experience coming from his PhD studies. Currently, he instructs a collective 500-student computer science course at UM that is divided amongst 150-200 students at a time. Being a part of a younger generation of teachers, it only makes sense that he employs a variety of technologies inside and out of his classroom.
“I always try to increase the digital component of my classes and open up the possibility for online learning.”
Some of the tools he uses are CTools (Michigan’s LMS built on Sakai), Piazza, PowerPoint, and Google Docs. Each one of these serves a unique purpose and together, provides collective value to his students.
Drew divides his classes into two themes: new concepts/processes and group exercises. To ensure an efficient use of time he provides students with the PowerPoint slides ahead of class. This way, they can choose to follow along during class on a device of choice (laptop or mobile) and mark up the slides with notes. He’s found this to be very effective because it gives just enough flexibility for students to leverage how they best learn. The second half of class is about applying the newly learned concepts and processes through questions and group work. Often, Drew will say to his students, “Turn to your neighbor, talk about this question, and come to an agreement on an answer.” Or he also might say, “Write a couple of lines of code to do this or take these lines of code and draw what the output should be.” Regardless of the exercise, Drew will proceed by circulating the room answering student questions.
As a young professor, Drew was kind enough to recap some major obstacles or challenges he’s faced in his time. One of the big points he explains is managing a course of this size, 500+ students in this particular case. That in and of itself is hard, but trying to create exams and assignments is very challenging.
“Writing exams turn out to be a huge effort because students need very good exams that are both clear and fair.”
Drew explained the most effective way to write an exam is to use Google Docs. By providing access to his staff, everyone can collaborate, comment, make changes, question problems, and ultimately arrive at a complete end-product. Similar to exam creation, Drew also uses Google Docs to give a centralized and shared spreadsheet to enter grades in real-time.
These creative ways of using technology have significantly improved his workflow and ultimately saved lots of time. I’d like to share one last thought that is best explained in Drew’s own words:
“It’s very important to constantly change your teaching style and modify your lectures. Right now based on how well each lecture goes or projects go, I try to change a little bit at a time here and there. Changing dynamically each semester is important.”