Garth goes back to College: Opps

I have been sitting in on an intro Python course at the local university.  This is a CSCI 135 course, the CS department’s first course for majors.  This course is three weeks long, three hours a day.  I can only sit in for a few days due to work at school and a week-long professional development I have scheduled.  I figured I would sit in for a few days just to see someone else teach programming.  I have not been in a programming classroom other than my own or a professional development for 20 years.  I need to be polite here but it is difficult.  The class is, ah, what words come to mind?  Confusing, boring, tedious, crappy, oh so traditional with the sage-on-the-stage, PowerPoint hell, trite, trivial, pure syntax and generally not good.  Is that polite enough?

The range of experience in the class is pretty broad.  There are students with nothing for a programming background and there are graduate students learning Python so they can use it for research.  One of my high school juniors is in the class with a month or two of Python.  So it is a difficult class to teach to but not impossible.  I can see the beginners are already lost and the experienced students are just suffering through the tedium.  The instructor is using an online textbook called zyBooks.  I understand why she would use it, it does the code grading automatically.  It is a huge time saver for the instructor.  But it is tedious and trite.

This course is a perfect example of the mindset that learning programming is nothing more than learning syntax.  Memorize the language syntax and you are learning programming.  No problem solving.  No teaching top down, bottom up or other problem solving strategies.  No debugging techniques.  Nothing that makes a programming course an actual, useful programming course.

Now my opinion could be influenced by the fact I can program in Python.  I have taken that in consideration and tried to step out of that knowledge personality.  I am trying to look at this course as a teacher with the goal of imparting a fundamental understanding of what programming is all about through the medium of a particular language.  From that view the course is a zero on a scale of zero to ten.

I am actually learning something by just sitting in.  Nothing about Python of course but a lot about ways of not teaching Python.  Not something I was planning on but it is worthwhile.  Watching this course is going to make me very conscious of how I teach my own courses.

6 Responses to “Garth goes back to College: Opps”

  1. zamanskym Says:

    I think more than a bit of this is the fact that college professors are by and large not teachers.

    • gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

      Even more: summer-school instructors are often not professors. They are often just warm bodies brought in because the course has to be taught and there is no one competent and willing to teach it.

      • zamanskym Says:

        Yes but even if they are, profs aren’t teachers and while some can teach, they usually don’t have the chops of a K12 teacher (but to be fair, I certainly am no researcher).

        I like many things about Hunter but one thing that makes me nuts is how they make me observe teachers.

        I’m officially in the ed school so they have me observe non CS teachers who all happen to be practicing teachers – all masters of their cradft.

        Instead I keep asking them to have me do my observations in CS where many (most? all?) have no real teacher training.

  2. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I agree that college professors are not trained to be teachers, but (based on my own observations) I disagree that K12 teachers are generally better teachers than professors are. There are good and bad teachers in both job titles, and I have seen no indication that one title is more highly correlated with good teaching.

    Local culture (by which I mean at the level of departments or schools—groups of around 20 people) makes a huge difference in how people approach their teaching, and I happen to be in a department that prides itself on teaching well (as well as being tops in research), so my view may be skewed. If I were in a department that regarded teaching as time wasting, then I might agree with zamanskym.

    • zamanskym Says:

      You could certainly be correct in this but you have one profession where you’re hired and by and large promoted for your research and only spend a fraction of your time in the practice of teaching vs a profession where that’s your entire job all the time practicing your craft all day every day.

  3. gflint Says:

    I have had college professors who were excellent teachers. One of the best I ever had was straight from Bulgaria. Terrible spoken English but beautiful hand writing and lots of office hours. This was a calculus course so the material was a bugger but he was so clear and he understood we were not all geniuses. The programming teacher in this course is a full-time instructor with no idea how students learn. I know Python and I was getting confused. A high school teacher that does not understand leaning and cannot teach simply needs to find another job. A college professor that cannot teach can be excused to some extent, it may not be their specialty and they may have absolutely no training in it. I have met very few that are not willing to try. I have had one that refused to do more than read the book to the class. She would make transparencies, put them on the overhead projector and using her finger read the text. Several of us older students talked to her and she was not going to change. We went to the University president. A new instructor appeared the next week.

    I taught at the university for 10 years. My teaching style was completely different from high school. Same class (precalc) but 50 students in the university class vs 15 at the high school.

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