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Walking without crutches

I still consider myself a newbie teacher. I’m just starting my fourth semester. And yes, I really enjoy it.

Now, how did I come to teaching? Well, my training has been mostly on stages for different conferences. More technical, more social, whatever — I have been giving ~10 talks a year for ~15 years, and I must have learnt something from that.

Some good things, some bad habits.

When giving presentations, a most usual technique is to prepare a set of slides to follow/support the ideas. And yes, that’s what I did for my classes: Since my first semester, I prepared a nice set of slides, thematically split in 17 files, with ~30 to ~110 pages each (yes, huge variation). Given the course spans 32 classes (72 hours, 2¼ hours per class), each slide lasts for about two classes.

But, yes, this tends to make the class much less dynamic, much more scripted, rigid, and… Boring. From my feedback, I understand the students don’t think I am a bad teacher, but still, I want to improve!

So, today I was to give the introduction to memory management. Easy topic, with few diagrams and numbers, mostly talking about the intuitive parts of a set of functions. I started scribbling and shortening the main points on a piece of paper (yes, the one on the picture). I am sure I can get down to more reduction — But this does feel like an improvement!

The class was quite successful. I didn’t present the 100% of the material (which is one of the reasons I cling to my presentations — I don’t want to skip important material), and at some point I do feel I was a bit going in circles. However, Operating Systems is a very intuitive subject, and getting the students to sketch by themselves the answers that describe the working of real operating systems was a very pleasant experience!

Of course, when I use my slides I do try to make it as interactive and collaborative as possible. But it is often unfeasible when I’m following a script. Today I was able to go around with the group’s questions, find my way back to the outline I prepared.

I don’t think I’ll completely abandon my slides, specially for some subjects which include many diagrams or pictures. But I’ll try to have this alternative closer to my mind.