A confession. When I was an undergraduate, I really didn’t go to classes as much as I should have. In particular, I didn’t go to many of my physics and math classes. Why? Mostly because these were the classes where I had the least problem picking up the material and my own self-motivation to learn the material on my own was almost always enough to carry me through the class. So the classes I attended the most were my humanities classes (to get that valuable B.S. in literature 😉 ) and my elective scientific courses, particularly the courses I took in computational neural science. Now that I’ve started teaching my own class, I wonder how much my own teaching suffers because of my past habits skipping class?
One thing I’ve noticed is that I have a hard time lecturing around a textbook. I have this insane desire to explain the subject material in my own words, and following a textbook closely makes me feel like I am not much more than a glorified parrot. I think, perhaps, this just has to do with my own proximity to the subject matter I’m teaching, quantum computing. Teaching about a subject which is not your own field of research in some ways seems like it would be easier, because you feel less of a desire to make sure you get it just right.
I am also fighting, in my own teaching, the three subject structure which was prevalent at Caltech. The three subject structure was the expectation that a course would involve lectures on one part of the subject, homeworks on another, and tests on a third part. Of course there was always some overlap, but there was also a lot of “thrown them into the fire” homeworks and tests. I can’t count the number of times I realized halfway through a test, “Oh, so this is what that means!” Fine for self-motivated self-learners, but not the best for everyone else.
Anyway, I think I’m slowly beginning to learn to teach. The first lecture for the course, I, uh, how to put this nicely, well I totally misjudge the appropriate difficulty level I should have been shooting for in the classs. In particular, I’m teaching the course to professional master’s students in computer science, some of whom have been out of school for a few years, and so, while I may want to teach them quantum theory in one lecture, this just is not very realistic! So starting in lecture two, we slowed down the pace quite a bit. Now entering into the fifth lecture, we’re beginning to get to things which I would consider truely quantum computing subjects. Now the challenge will be, again, to restrain myself from running rampshot through this material. Certainly there last homework was significantly harder than their first two, so I’m really trying to slow the pace as we enter the really cools stuff in quantum computing. Interestingly, slowing down has resulted in, I think, teaching the material in a careful manner, but has also kept me from teaching the big picture as effectively as possible. Mixing these two styles, big picture and instruction on the details, is something I’m working on.
Well, back to working on my lecture and the next homework set!
The Quantum Cardinals