Alexander Sayapin Teacher's site

Teaching statement

Posted on Wed 09 October 2019

In Общие вопросы.

tags: teaching teaching statement


Sometimes for some universities it is necessary to provide teaching statement.

Here is mine :)

Teaching statements

The way I teaching and why

I've been working as a teacher for more than 20 years now. I always have been considering my work as a way to help my students not only to study particular things but as the way to give the whole picture in the field we discussing. My way of teaching included a few main principles, such as:

  • to explain why we study this thing (even for the abstract topics, where the explanation would be "to teach you to think a particular way")
  • to go throughout the subject from general to details mostly (however sometimes we need to go from details to general)
  • to give examples of using the topic
  • to be as consistent and structured as possible
  • to give the historical context where it allows to make the topic more clear
  • to use project based approach where it is possible

A few years ago I took part in an international summer school where I was the developer of the main concept of the school and a few courses. The school was devoted to the development of the means (a mobile robotic system to be precise) for extraterrestrial exploration. The structure of the school included courses such as control systems, image processing, neural networks, fuzzy logic, microelectronics. The summer school itself was project-based (as the students were to implement a robot), and started with the description of the goal of the school. In each course the information about its purpose in the project was provided as well as the information about the history of extraterrestrial exploration. The courses I taught included a brief description of the subject and its purposes, our task for the lesson, a clear and consistent description of the method we are going to use. The practical part described what we were doing and how to start, and left the others for students themselves, which allowed them to combine the theoretical information with practice to reach the goal of the lesson. The results of the lessons (the software and the configuration of the system the students developed) were combined to be used as an unmanned exploration vehicle control system.

What students should expect of me as a teacher

As a teacher, I always try to provide enough information to understand what it is all about, where can we use it, and its place among the other topics. I believe it's a good idea to provide information from other subjects to illustrate the application of the topic or to make it more clear. Teaching the formal grammars and finite automata, I give an example of how it could be used to organize a reliable and convenient way to communicate between two IoT devices. I am always ready to provide help with particular topics if it is necessary. I am also open to dialog and discussions. I provide equal treatment for all my students. To evaluate the knowledge of the students I prefer to use objective means of knowledge evaluation like multiple-choice assessments.

Teaching method I use most

I do prefer using project-based approach where it is possible as well as a combination of theory and practice. Most of my course works organized in a way where all the parts are interlinked so the learning process goes smoothly. My course usually consists of repeating triads of introductory common information and theory, a guided practice, a solving of a small practical task (sometimes these two elements can be combined into one), and a discussion.

In fact, I prefer to teach my students to study new things, to give them the method to get new knowledge rather than to give them a particular method, approach, library, or a framework because there are a lot of new libraries and frameworks appears in IT every year.

My database design course leads the students from the idea of storing of a structured information through the modelling of a subject area using a common notation, through the normal forms theory, connected with discrete maths, through the useful terminology to the building of the database structure, its implementation and fulfilling, to the queries to the database using SQL, through the informational systems structure and the place of a database in it, to the implementation of a small client-server informational system, to the NoSQL databases, their purpose and place in the ecosystem of distributed systems. Each element of the course includes its purpose and a piece of theory information under the hood, the guide how to implement it and a practical task with a discussion.

Sometimes I also offer my students videos and articles (if it is not against the local copyright law) from conferences (both the scientific ones and developer ones) to give them examples of using of technologies we study.

What I want my students to learn and how I understand my students reach the goal of studying?

I'm pretty sure the education process itself has a few particular goals if we are discussing higher education. The first one is obviously to give knowledge and skills in a particular field. The second one is to give the whole picture, to give the opportunity to go further and deeper in the given field or in a close one. The third one is to teach the student to express themselves, to describe what he or she has done, to communicate with colleagues.

The Bloom's taxonomy in the cognitive domain includes the following elements: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. For the students of technical subjects, the application objective is the absolute minimum so I strive my students to reach it.

I believe that the best way to know if a student reached the goal of studying is to ask him to solve a practical problem in the given field. However, it's hard to achieve in many cases (especially, if we are talking about some theoretical subjects).

Another good way to check if a student is ready is an interview which I personally prefer most. It allows to use different approaches, to check if a student understands the subject and which stage in understanding he or she reached.

Unfortunately, we all have our biases. It's hard to avoid all of these, so another way to test student's knowledge is an assessment, a multiple choice assessment for instance. It also can be used for knowledge and skills assessment in distant learning. I often use to check if the students understand the part of the course we already studied.

Why am I of use for my students as a teacher?

I prefer to combine theory and practice in a way that allows my students to have both the common understanding of the area and the detailed understanding of particular methods or approaches. It allows my students both to start applying the methods and to get some result and to understand other methods and approaches and switch if necessary.

Many of my former students tell me my courses were of use for them even if they weren't applying the stuff I taught them in their everyday work.

How do you as a teacher create an engaging or enriching learning environment?

In my work, I do my best in using all the things, connected with the topic I teach at the moment. In my Computer Architecture course I use a lot of things, including CARDboard Illustrative Aid to Computation to explain the basic principles of how a computer works, the implementation of the elements of a computer in Logisim, and combining the elements into the whole, and to using VHDL to implement a simple processor.

I also use films if possible, and references to everyday life if it allows me to explain the things better. I do love my work as it requires a lot of erudition.

How has your thinking about teaching changed over time? Why?

The teaching process itself changed a lot during the past 10 years.

The MOOCs became widely spread, people now can combine self-teaching (which is a quite efficient process from my point of view, because of a lot of available information sources providing you have at least basic understanding of how it works) and classical teaching, where the teacher tells you how the best result can be achieved.

On the other hand, the availability of the sources gives us an illusion of studying process simplicity, gives us the feeling we can get everything on our finger toes within seconds... but without a solid foundation of the basic knowledge and knowledge structure it cannot give all the possibilities we may use. Meanwhile, it's a great opportunity to become a really qualified person if you have the holistic picture of the world in the given field.

It is hard to tell where it all leads, but we as teachers may use the possibilities the IT development gives us to improve the quality of the teaching process.


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