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Lecture 0

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I am particularly interested in and excited about innovation in teaching and learning. Although most of my teaching focuses on computer science and cyber security, this interest translates to other disciplines and life in general. I attempt to convey this to my students in the way that I teach. The current generation of students that fill my classes is of a different breed. The way that we reach this generation is strikingly different than the way my generation was reached...and I am not that old!

At the bottom of my syllabuses I include the following statement: "Please be aware that Computer Science and Cyber Engineering are production-oriented disciplines. As such, simply trying hard is not enough; we want students who succeed!" During the first class meeting of every course that I teach, I point out this statement and explain that a segment of society would like us to believe that trying is enough. Although we should clearly show compassion, the reality is that success is crucial to a productive life. Trying is a part of the process, but doing so continually without ever succeeding indicates a lack of crucial skills. Failure is often unavoidable and also quite important; however, we should endeavor to learn from our failures, work through them, and strive for success by bringing everything to the table when confronting a problem. I believe that a part of the teaching process should strive to foster these necessary crucial skills. In my experience, it turns out that an alternative approach to teaching (as opposed to having formal lectures on skills that motivate success) was sufficient.

I believe that "raising the bar" is an important part of creating better computer scientists in the future. The converse (lowering the bar) seems to occur frequently, but I think it is promoted by well-intentioned people who wish to grow the "success" group. Unfortunately, this just looks good and merely redefines what success means without actually changing anything or fostering better and more successful students. Raising the bar represents a shift in thinking that strives to better students by challenging them to willingly aim higher. But we as educators often fail to additionally provide the tools necessary to propel students to "raise" with us. And sometimes, it is just something that we say because it sounds good – and this is not good.

To address this, the first lecture in every class that I teach is called Lecture 0. It is largely philosophical, and it hints at my methods of teaching which specifically seek to prepare students for the real world by providing challenging projects that offer practical solutions. It is typical in an academic setting to set limits thereby trapping the process inside an "academic box" which promotes the perception that there are no consequences to what we do. The first lecture brings in ideas from a variety of places and includes often controversial topics such as men versus women and trying versus succeeding. We discuss quite a large number of problems and issues that is followed by my "bag of tricks," several useful tactics that students can use to help them solve problems.

This discussion is coupled with the observation that most students do not know how to learn (it is not necessarily that the material is hard to learn), that most students lack basic organizational skills and have absolutely no clue how to manage their time effectively, and that most students are grossly inefficient when it comes to processing and storing information for later retrieval.

I consider Lecture 0 to be a significant accomplishment in that it has shown to be very effective and compelling. At the conclusion of a course, many students have commented that this first lecture stands as the best and most useful they have ever heard, regardless of course subject matter. It matters to the students because it is something they see as directly and immediately applicable to a broad segment of their lives. They also appreciate the honesty and candor which, they tell me, is sorely lacking in their lives.

I have been told that my excitement of computer science and the desire for increased awareness in cyber security is contagious. Coupled with a teaching style that peaks the interest of students, this has led to my appointment as Coordinator of Student Engagement, my involvement in numerous interdisciplinary programs (such as Cyber Discovery, Cyber Science, and Cyber Engineering), request multiple times as faculty assigned to challenge, motivate, and inspire senior undergraduate computer science students in their culminating senior capstone course, appointment as the Interim Program Chair of Cyber Engineering (in the program's first year from 2012-13), and appointment as Program Chair of the Computer Science Program. The latter two are achievements that I am particularly proud of attaining as an untenured faculty. I plan to continue to evolve my teaching style to remain on the cusp of innovation in reaching our students. I have aspirations to one day be considered a great teacher as defined by William Ward: "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." I want to inspire.

Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing. -- Denis Waitley
Last updated: 2023-05-10 19:28