Herbert A. Simon Award for Teaching Excellence 2019
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)
My Favorite Things
Two years back, the students in my Algorithms class remarked on the fact that I use the phrase "This is one of my favorite results/techniques..." a lot. They were looking out for me: they thought I may have been overusing the phrase, and maybe I should change things around. But it was the opposite, as I explained to them at the time. Writing these thoughts gives me the chance to explain it again. In fact, I had wanted to use that phrase in each of my lectures, but was holding back. The joy of teaching, for me, is that we can tell others ideas and techniques and results and concepts that give us pleasure, that are our favorites. Of course, these ideas should correspond to the body of knowledge that the course is supposed to pass along to the students. But we are lucky that much of the time we play with ideas with tremendous power, with great elegance, with quiet simplicity, with broad applicability, ideas that are clever and cute and devious and beautiful. That year, like every year, I was pointing out some of my many many favorites within the course material.
In terms of suggestions/advice: Something that works for me, I guess, is to try and put myself in the audience's shoes. I think of what material they have seen before and what they may possibly remember and be able to connect to, and even trivial things like what time of day it is and what they may want to hear. Naturally, we have a lecture to give and content to cover, there's no avoiding that. But how we deliver that content can – and perhaps must – change with the context.
I would like to thank all my teachers (and co-teachers!) and TAs – and of course, the students in all my classes – for teaching me how to learn, and how to teach.
19 May 2019