Today was the first day of my new teaching adventure at Quest University. I am teaching a 3rd year undergraduate course called Computation in the Physical Sciences. This is a challenge for me on several aspects, including that physical sciences are outside of my domain (I am a biologist by training), Quest uses a block program (courses are run one at a time for 3.5 weeks) and this is my first time engineering and teaching such a course. But I am very excited by this challenge and today was a day filled with tons of learning for me, and hopefully, also for the students.
So how do I think today went? Overall, I think it was a good start. I began class with an icebreaker, asking the students to introduce themselves, tell the group the scientific question they are interested in and what they do outside of school. There are 15 students in the class, and despite this class being labelled as being for “Physical Scientists” the students had diverse research interests including topics beyond the physical sciences, including biology and the social sciences. I think this speaks to the fact that computers and big data have infiltrated almost every corner of human life, and almost all researchers face similar problems of data access & storage, data munging into a useable format for visualization and/or statistics and making all of this reproducible. I really hope to lay a foundation for how to do this well for these students.
Inspired by my Software Carpentry training and experience I chose a live-coding approach to teaching the Bash Shell today. I inserted many multiple choice and short-answer challenges into the class to keep the students thinking and engaged. Their feedback, which I collected on sticky notes at the end of class indicated that they really enjoyed that.
As with all teaching, not everything went swimmingly… A wifi outage for the first 1.5 hours of class enhanced some software installation issues, prevented the use of a public note taking pad and the online quiz tool Socrative. We worked around these issues until the wifi was back up, but it was less than ideal. Other feedback from students on how I can improve the class is to ensure that I do a solid wrap-up at the end of each class on what we learned and why it is important, check-in verbally with students more often to ask how things are going (beyond my use of sticky notes and Socrative quizzes), and to work the room - essentially to move around and talk to more students, not just the ones situated at the front.
Tomorrow the student’s first small assignment is due and we will have a short quiz, so I will get a better picture then of how it really went ;)