Teaching Statement

Perhaps more than ever, students in higher education have widely varying reasons for attending (e.g. to participate in a meritocratic, democratic, or vocational experience[2]). Especially in technical fields like Computer Science, many students are seeking credentials of specialized knowledge as prerequisites for a career (such as software developer). Unfortunately, the technology changes so rapidly that the kind of practical knowledge and skills sought by many students would be insufficient to secure their career (beyond their first job). I am also sympathetic to the view of many students (and their parents) that they should expect a return on the costly investment of higher education. I discuss this tension with my students directly.

I believe that students should learn practical, applied skills and domain-specific knowledge to be immediately marketable, perhaps even before finishing their bachelor’s. However, this is not my primary interest in education. I also believe that their undergraduate education is for many a last opportunity to be educated more broadly. While indeed employers will try to assess the students’ practical knowledge with specific technologies, this knowledge alone will suit neither the student nor their employer(s) in the long term. Importantly, supporting only specialized, vocational education is a disservice to our society. Through their undergraduate education, students should improve their reading and writing skills sufficient to be critical, informed voters, consumers, employees, and community members.

In support of my interest in: (1) helping educate students more liberally and (2) satisfying their future employers’ interests in practical knowledge and skills, I use a variety of active learning [3] pedagogical methods. I bring current events into the computer science classroom to discuss, among other things, software developers’ ethical responsibilities with respect to the applications and systems they build. Students in courses I teach spend their time in class with me in different ways. Sometimes I present topics to them using slides or other presentation technology for illustrations. Often I program in the classroom with my students writing code at the same time. Still other times we use the class time for discussion having read and/or written (or “coded”) as an assignment due prior to class (flipping the classroom). Aside from reading and discussing potentially controversial current events, I also encourage my students to engage in the world outside the classroom by taking action in the community where possible. There are many opportunities for computer scientists to put their skills to work for (e.g.) interest groups that appeal to students or government bodies for which my students are constituents. Service-learning can not only enrich the students’ undergraduate experience, but can also bolster their resumes.

I think it is important to get to know my students, not only so that I can provide personal feedback on their performance in the course, but also so that I might be better able to advise them on next steps beyond the course and the classroom. My students get to know me on a personal level and we enjoy corresponding long after they’ve graduated. These personal connections help to build community in the classroom and the department where we work. Additionally, these personal connections make it easier for me to write strong recommendations for students’ next steps. Further, building these relationships enhances the students’ overall experience with their undergraduate education, helping them feel connected, and like they belong. These interests in helping students acquire practical knowledge and applied skills, experience a liberal arts education and service-learning, and build personal relationships, are a direct extension of my own undergraduate experience.

I became most interested in becoming a professor during my 3rd year of undergrad. Having built relationships with several of my professors in Computer Science and out, having had an opportunity to TA a course, and having at that point experienced such a diversity of professors with equally varied teaching ability, I decided that not only did I want to advance my field through research, but that I also wanted to advance my field by mentoring and teaching students. My mentor, Prof. Gary Bishop, was instrumental in helping me to continue my involvement with research, teaching, and service.

Several learning experiences influence the kind of teacher I would like to be. These influential experiences come from all levels of education from elementary to postgraduate, but most recently and influentially (as part of my pursuit of becoming a better teacher through the Preparing the Future Professoriate program and Engineering Education Graduate Certificate), I took a Contemporary Pedagogy course from Professor Shelli Fowler. Aside from Prof. Fowler’s excellent modeling and facilitation, many of the readings from the course were useful, especially Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed [1] and Weimer’s Learner-Centered Teaching [4]. Aside from the readings, discussions, and the professor’s modeling, building a community of colleagues with whom I could discuss teaching was invaluable, and something I continued throughout my graduate education.

I look forward to continuing to teach, learn, serve, and research as an assistant professor.

References

  1. Paulo Freire. 1970. Pedagogy of the oppressed (MB Ramos, Trans.). New York: Continuum 2007.
  2. Louis Menand. 2011. Live and learn. A Critic at Large), The New Yorker 6: 74–79.
  3. Michael Prince. 2004. Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of engineering education 93, 3: 223–231.
  4. Maryellen Weimer. 2002. Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. John Wiley & Sons.

Teaching Experience

I have been an Instructor for 1 course, a co-instructor for 1 course, and a teaching assistant for 13 courses:

  1. Spring 2005: 3D Computer Modeling and Animation (COMP 006D) – Teaching Assistant
  2. Fall 2009: Introduction to Software Design (CS 1114) – Graduate Teaching Assistant
  3. Fall 2010: Engineering Exploration (ENGE 1024) – Workshop Leader
  4. Spring 2011: Exploration of the Digital Future (ENGE 1104) – Workshop Leader
  5. Fall 2011: Introduction to Media Computation (CS 1124) – Co-Instructor
  6. Spring 2012: Introduction to Media Computation (CS 1124) – Instructor
  7. Fall 2014: Preparing the Future Professoriate (GRAD 5104) – Graduate Teaching Assistant
  8. Spring 2015: Preparing the Future Professoriate (GRAD 5104) – Graduate Teaching Assistant
  9. Summer 2015: Global Perspectives in Higher Education (GRAD 5954) – Graduate Teaching Assistant1
  10. Fall 2015: Preparing the Future Professoriate (GRAD 5104) – Graduate Teaching Assistant
  11. Spring 2016: Preparing the Future Professoriate (GRAD 5104) – Graduate Teaching Assistant
  12. Summer 2017: Global Perspectives in Higher Education (GRAD 5954) – Graduate Teaching Assistant1
  13. Fall 2016: Preparing the Future Professoriate (GRAD 5104) – Graduate Teaching Assistant
  14. Spring 2017: Preparing the Future Professoriate (GRAD 5104) – Graduate Teaching Assistant
  15. Summer 2017: Global Perspectives in Higher Education (GRAD 5954) – Graduate Teaching Assistant1

1 Global Perspectives in Higher Education (GRAD 5954) is a study abroad course. I am the primary organizer of this experience. With support of Vice President and Dean of Graduate Education Karen DePauw, I contact our participating institutions abroad, plan our travel, lodging, meals, and itinerary. I then help in the successful execution of these plans by traveling with the group and facilitating successful interactions between our cohort and our hosts.

Mentoring

One of my favorite parts of being a graduate student has been mentoring students. I look forward to continuing to mentor, and to improving my mentoring in my role as a professor. Below are a few of the students I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring during my time at Virginia Tech (listed with permission):

Teaching Evaluations

It is difficult to report my teaching evaluations in a meaningful way. While my evaluations are quite good, the response rates were low, and the evaluations were only gathered at the end of the semester via the standard questionnaire utilized by the entire university. When I teach, I solicit anonymous feedback at regular intervals throughout the semester. Also, I only have these reports for those semesters where I was instructor of record (#5 and #6 above). Nonetheless, I will share what in many ways are rather meaningless values below.

There were 12 questions on the end of course evaluations that asked responding students to rate statements on a 6-point likert scale (from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree). All of these questions were worded so that positive valence was reflected in the agreement side of the scale. I mapped students’ responses to a numerical scale with:

6
Strongly Agree
5
Agree
4
Somewhat Agree
3
Somewhat Disagree
2
Disagree
1
Strongly Disagree
  1. Co-Instructor of CS 1124 (Introduction to Media Computation) in Fall 2011 with 58 students.
    • x̄=5.28 (out of 6.0), σ=0.98 across all 12 questions across all students (n=35 of 58, 60% response rate).
      1. More detail can be found in Michael Stewart - Detailed Teaching Evaluations.
      2. N.B. according to my department head, the average for 2008-spring 2011 for this course was 2.73/4.00. Then the evaluation form was changed, and from Fall 2011-Spring 2014 (when we last offered the course) the average for this course was 4.33/6.0.
  2. Instructor of CS 1124 (Introduction to Media Computation) in Spring 2012 with 54 students.
    • x̄=5.47, σ=0.82 across all 12 questions across all students (n=31 of 54, 57% response rate).
      1. More detail can be found in Michael Stewart - Detailed Teaching Evaluations.
      2. N.B. according to my department head, the average for 2008-spring 2011 for this course was 2.73/4.00. Then the evaluation form was changed, and from Fall 2011-Spring 2014 (when we last offered the course) the average for this course was 4.33/6.0.

Selected Student Feedback

  • “He’s pretty good at breaking down (often abstract) computer science concepts and putting them in simple language. For example, he’ll use metaphors.”
  • “Drew demonstrations of the subject on the board.”
  • very respectful and friendly. excellent use of Piazza.”
  • “Explained programming concepts in non-programming ways. Since I have never programmed before, this was especially valuable to me.”
  • Overall, one of the best structured classes I’ve taken. Everything seemed very well planned out to meet certain learning objectives.”
  • “Michael Stewart really cared for each student’s understanding of what was being taught.”
  • “Posted lectures online. Very active on Piazza. Always willing to help.”
  • “Explained everything well, kept the class active.”
  • “Slow, detailed, and interesting explanations of concepts were extremely helpful.”
  • “You are exceptionally good at explaining things. I would basically just encourage you to be as available to students as possible with more hours because I’ve how well I understand the material after you explain it.”
  • “He was always there to answer questions, no matter what”
  • “Michael did a good job attempting to make up for what couldn’t do. He was always very helpful, and often stayed beyond his office hours to help all of the people that would be there trying to get help for our homeworks and projects.”
  • “Always willing to help you out if you have a problem. Takes a great interest in making sure you understand material.”
  • “Especially in the labs, Michael was incredibly helpful. Even if it was past our scheduled lab time, he stayed to make sure we had everything done and completed. Michael definitely will make a good instructor of this course in the future.”

Honors

  • I am delighted to participate in the VT Graduate Academy for Teaching Excellence (VT GrATE) as an Associate Member.
  • Winning Teaching Assistant of the Year (2005) during my undergraduate TA experience in Computer Science at UNC was a motivating factor for me to continue pursuing my interest in teaching.

Teaching Materials