Spencer Rugaber

Where should the instructor be between the two extremes of the instructor as entirely passive cartographer and the instructor as coercive drill sergeant?

I think of the instructor more as a tour guide than either of the two extremes mentioned above (though I have seen both of these approaches used effectively). The student has paid for the trip, and it is the instructor's job to describe the countryside, note interesting points, warn of dangers, and suggest short cuts and diversions.

Should education be for the sake of career preparation or for lifetime enrichment?

The question is misleading. The issue is really what time frame a course is targeted at. Some courses will present material and skills that are immediately applicable; others will be of value as a foundation to future learning. Personally, I have always taken a longer-term perspective.

What are the respective responsibilities of the instructor and the student?

It is my responsibility as the instructor's to do the following.

It is the student's responsibility to do the following.

How should a course be structured?

Typically, I have structured courses based on the natural structure of the subject matter. Lately, I have experimented with structuring a course based on the learning process being used. In software engineering, where group skills are important, the project component of the course is central. I use lectures to introduce or reinforce concepts that arise during the project. This implies that generic skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, and verbal and written communication become as much or more important than do the latest design techniques. In courses where skill acquisition is central, then assignments requiring skill demonstration are the most effective approach. Where subject matter is dominant, lecture and discussion are used.

I also believe that students learn in different ways. Some learn best by being given a technique and opportunities to practice it. Others like the big picture (theoretical concepts) into which the specifics can be placed. Still others like to see lots of examples and generalize for themselves. The implication is that I have to enable learning with a variety of approaches, rather than just one.

I also believe in the value of superficial exposure; that is, the presentation of a concept without a complete explanation. I see a value to this in preparing a student for the later time at which it is more appropriate to learn the material. In the public schools this is called the spiral approach to learning.

What is the role/purpose of grades?

I see three perspectives: grades as a measure of competency in some material or skill; grades as a discriminator among students; and grades as a reward for effort or progress. In the first case, the grade information is being communicated to potential employers or subsequent instructors who have the right to make certain inferences when a grade is seen. In the third case, the information is being communicated primarily to the student, i. e. work harder for a reward. In order for the third to be meaningful, the grades have to discriminate among the students.

I certainly want to reward students for effort. The effort is an indication that the students have an interest in learning. This attitude when viewed in terms of the long-term perspective mentioned above, can itself be considered a competency. Hence, I am less concerned with informing a potential employer about competency in some ephemeral skill than I am in communicating to a student that learning will be rewarded. This does, nevertheless, imply that the grades do need to discriminate among students. However, evaluating effort is much more subjective than evaluating competence, and therefore fraught with significant difficulties.