I think that learning occurs when students are the ones driving the learning and are empowered to pursue what matters to them. I like when learning extends beyond me teaching from the stage to students that sit back. I like my students to exchange knowledge and discuss among them, to question me, to reflect on what I teach and to make connections on their own.
In my lectures, I interleave frontal talks, which I use to teach discipline specific contents, with practical group activities that are meant to grow both a critical understanding of the discipline and higher order thinking skills. I teach with frontal lectures terms, facts, concepts and theories of my subjects. However, I also want students to “get dirty” using materials, tools, and methodology. On the one hand, I want them to understand bottom-up perspectives and values of my subjects. I like the idea that in this way they will be able to evaluate future methods, tools and materials. On the other hand, I want them to work productively with others and apply their analytical and problem-solving skills to my subjects. Especially when I teach big data and data science, I do my best to challenge their ability to draw reasonable inferences from observations and to synthesize and integrate information and ideas. I’d like them to think holistically: to see the whole as well as the parts!
For me, the clearest evidence of student learning is their willingness to use the methods, tools and materials of my subjects to solve real-world problems. When a student of mine becomes able to generalize what I taught to new problems and situations, I know I succeed.
I think that I teach in this way, because I was taught in this way, too. I went to schools where discipline-specific knowledge and skills were on the same plane of personal development. I was taught to cultivate both a sense of responsibility for my behaviour and an active commitment to accurate work and honesty. I think my teachers pushed me a lot to grow my capacities to appreciate the liberal arts and sciences as the principal mean to make wise decisions. My goal is to stimulate this approach and encourage others to do the same.
I’m very curious about new techniques, activities, and types of learning. Recently, in my Big Data and Data Science courses, I experiment in using notebooks instead of slides. I particularly liked the fact that notebooks can be executed. I tried to prepare notebooks that, in the beginning, bring students along a safe path, but, after a while, challenge them to complete parts in order to proceed. This stimulates the students to think about what they are learning. If I see that they can proceed individually, I carry on with the lecture. If many get stuck, I invite those that succeeded to help the others. In the end, we discuss what was the obstacle and why some were able to overcome it individually, while others required some help.
Of course, this way of teaching does not always work. I met students that prefer to sit back and listen. I do not have problem to stay on stage and give frontal lectures, but I think that such a type of students is a bad result of the traditional way of teaching and I hope that the number of students of that type will decrease.