Why am I here?Posted: February 5, 2012
I’m currently in Singapore, teaching an intensive course as 3 hours Friday night, 6 hours Saturday and 7 hours Sunday. Obviously a course like this poses challenges for both staff and students, given the intensive nature, so I try to make it very interactive, full of peer activity and very little ‘just listening to Nick speak’. (Sometimes I succeed better than others.)
On Friday night, I wrote two lines up on the board:
“Why are you here?”
“Why am I here?”
My first discussion with the class, at 7pm on a Friday night after they’d been at work all day, was on these questions. As always, initial participation was guarded. Most students are in classes to meet requirements, pass exams and get pieces of paper – asking questions about this can cause some soul searching. So I switched to a discussion about why I was there.
Pause. Then a cautious suggestion.
“Money?” (Class laughter)
This gave me a more relaxed class to talk to and the chance to talk about all the reasons I could be there. After a minute or two’s (guided) discussion, I heard:
“You’re here to share your knowledge?”
Which then guided us to the next stage of the intro discussion – the important bit. The fact that if they know the work then passing the exam will be relatively easy. The fact that I care about what they know and that, when they leave, they should be able to practise their art with confidence.
The whole activity took about 5 minutes and set the tone for highly engaged discussion in and around 28 people, late on a Friday night, that happened to include a lot of information on Distributed Systems. It’s an ice breaker, a warm-up and it also tells the students what I need them to know: that I need them to know.