Saturday, June 11, 2011

Books that influenced my teaching practice

I've been thinking these last two days about the books I have read in my six years as a professor, and how these books have affected my practice. When I started at Ball State University, I was like a lot of freshly-minted Ph.D.s: I had spent the last several years focused on research with just a little bit of teaching experience, and I had never really been mentored in effective teaching practices, not beyond some TA training just before starting grad school.

Hindsight is imperfect, but if a new CS faculty member were to ask me today what to read in order to develop a better understanding of teaching, here's what I would say. They're listed in the order I read them.

Holub on Patterns. This is one of my favorite books on patterns. It takes the Gang of Four patterns and presents them in the context of two case studies, and these come after two of the best chapters on the philosophy object-oriented design that I have ever read. The fact that the patterns are shown in collaboration is significant: one of my lessons from grad school was that it was very hard to teach or learn the patterns in isolation, because that's not how they emerge in practice. While his book is not explicitly about teaching, the idea of holistic education arises every time  I design a learning experience. I think I read it at a very influential time as well: as I was finishing my doctorate and thinking about what kind of professor I wanted to be.

Scholarship Reconsidered and Scholarship Assessed. I read the Boyer and Glassick et al. books when serving as chair of my department's Promotion and Tenure Committee. These should be required reading for anyone going interested in becoming a professor, and university administration should be required to re-read them every three years. Boyer famously describes a taxonomy for scholarship, but I think it's Glassick's book that forced me to think about the extent to which my teaching was scholarly activity.

The Pragmatic Programmer. I wish I could say, "'Nuff said" and be done with it, but I that is insufficient. All computer science professors who have not read this book should do so now, especially if involved in curriculum design and outcomes assessment. Reading this book is as close as you can get to having an expert advise the practice / applications side of the curriculum.

Disrupting Class got me me seriously thinking about the educational complex more than any other book. It's easy to find flaws in the system, but rather than dwell on these, the book addresses fundamental concepts innovation and growth. It raises the important point that organizations protect themselves at all costs, and that disruption can only be achieved by making a market where there was not one before. Several of the ideas from this book influenced my concept of the university sandbox, a place to foster the reimagining of higher education, as documented in the Future of Education Task Force report.

Pragmatic Thinking and Learning is a brilliant presentation on how people learn, focusing on software developers in particular. I would love to know what a non-developer thinks of the book. I found it to be general enough to extract several pieces into completely unrelated teaching experiences, but I also have the benefit of sharing a jargon and mindset with the author and the intended audience.

How People Learn. By the time I read this book earlier this year, I knew most of the big ideas already, having come across them in other readings or through SIGCSE and CCSC:MW. The piece of the puzzle I had not previously considered was the role of culture in learning and the vast, undocumented differences that can exist within superficially homogenous groups. I have always known that my game-related examples in CS120, for example, appeal to subcultures in the class, and so I would try to balance them against other examples, such as economics or sports-related. However, before reading this book, I hadn't considered the deeper issues of how people communicate and express understanding.

This is far from an annotated bibliography, but after reading Spinuzzi's eight-year anniversary blog post, it got me thinking that I should be sharing more about the books I read, and providing more critical evaluations of them. If nothing else, it will help me remember how I've grown and changed through reflective practice, and hopefully it will also help provide a corpus of related work as I continue to document my research.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.