Why We Teach The Way We Do

Today, a colleague confided in me:

“Dirk, if I were a student, I wouldn’t attend your classes. I never liked to speak up and would rather cram for an exam at the end of the semester rather than open my mouth in class.”

Well, that was quite the bummer. However:

We teach to make the most of your time: To achieve the highest possible learning in the shortest amount of time. Your (student) time is precious, and so is ours. For that, we encourage active class participation. To make this clear, parts of your grades depend on that participation.

Look at the following increasing steps of class engagement:

  1. Showing up
  2. Above + listening to the lecturer
  3. Above + thinking about what you are hearing
  4. Above + verbalizing your thoughts (speaking up)
  5. Above + answering to someone else’s thoughts
  6. Above + collaborating to solve a problem

Make a guess, where you are learning the most, and where your learning time is spent most effectively?

Our best teaching takes place in lab courses. We alternate between Nailing your Thesis, a research lab course, and The AMOS Project, a software development lab course. Beyond that, we teach in seminars, where we have guided discussions around student presentations. Only after that, we do plain lectures.

Look at how your time is spent. In a lab course, you actively engage in a defined weekly rhythm. At the end of the semester, you are done. No cramming for exams, of which there are many in parallel. No short-term learning, to be forgotten once the exam is over. We (intend to) create long-term practical knowledge and know-how.

So, that’s it. There is much more to be said, but I’ll leave it like this. If you are afraid of speaking up in class, ask your friends of how bad it really is. We don’t bite, we make it easy. And we don’t look kindly at people who talk to much. One good comment in class is wholly sufficient for the whole session. Once you got the hang of it, it is not only easy, but gratifying to do.

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