Herbert A. Simon Award for Teaching Excellence 2016
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)

9 lessons

Ryan O'Donnell

I feel very honored to receive the Herbert A. Simon Award for Teaching! Looking back at 9 years of teaching at CMU, I tried to think of 9 lessons I feel I've learned – sometimes the hard way...

1. Find great TAs; they are invaluable. (PS: thanks to all my terrific TAs over the years!)

2. Prepare, prepare, rehearse, prepare some more. 15-251 is a course number, but it can also be a good mnemonic; 15 hours of lecture preparation is worth it for 251 student-hours of lecture listening.

3. Teaching will help you with your research – no matter if it's a first-year class for undergraduates or an advanced-topics class for graduate students. Organizing your thoughts on a subject, coming up with newer and simpler explanations, filling in gaps in your knowledge of topics you thought you knew...all of these things will help you in your research endeavors. And if you want to learn a new subject, try teaching a class on it! 4. Try out some different teaching formats. Sometimes just stating an idea and then opening the class up for discussion is more valuable than rushing through a packed lecture. And injecting some humor or some personal stories can bea good way to make the lectures more memorable.

5. Just because a student is quiet, or doesn't ace the homeworks, doesn't mean they won't go on to amaze you months or years later. Don't judge a book by its cover!

6. For many courses, the most fun part will be office hours. In a big lecture it can be hard to know if the students are 'getting it', but you always know and can always help out much more in office hours. Plus, it's your opportunity to get to know students at a personal level.

7. Consider videotaping your lectures. The students like to be able to watch them later, you can watch them later to try to assess and improve your teaching. Even after the course ends, students who didn't take the class may want to watch.

8. CMU students are exceptional – don't be afraid to present the really challenging ideas or mind-bending concepts.

9. There are many great teachers at CMU to learn teaching strategies and advice from. Probably several of these lessons I thought I've learned are actually wrong! Keep talking through teaching philosophy and ideas with your colleagues.

15 May 2016

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