I never intentionally planned to become a teacher.
I certainly never considered myself a teacher before I started consciously thinking about these things, in 2018 during my formal pedagogy training. During the training, I noticed that the other participants – the mythical real teachers – are much like me. They share the same problems. They take pride in the same things. They tell stories about the same student archetypes they encounter. So… maybe I was already a real teacher, after all?
I accepted the first short-term position as a “peer-teacher” of sorts. Back in the day, somewhere around 2003, students were paid to teach younger students subjects like math and physics. I applied and got accepted because I wanted to help others, had solid grades in those subjects, and they pay was GOOD for a highly socially active and outgoing student. I think we all know which of those reasons was the most important.
The next year, in 2004, I accepted a part-time position in a research group (back then called MediaTeam), and this also meant that slowly I was being assigned as a TA, a teaching assistant, on a variety of technical courses taught by senior staff in the same group. Years passed, and slowly I “had to” start taking more responsibility: grade exams, create practical assignments, etc. I say had to, because back then I may not have appreciated the opportunity it actually was – an opportunity to learn about how to be with people and how to teach in general.
Fast forward some years and different posts (not all academic) all the way to being a postdoc 2015, and I started getting my own courses to manage as the main responsible teacher. This is also exceptional and I am lucky to have had people around me who actually let postdocs be responsible for courses: The default way in many research units in Finland is still letting only professors teach.
Currently, I am creating my own courses on new topics that have not been taught in the unit before, such as Social Computing. I’ve been drawn into being a regular member of our unit’s teaching staff. So here I am. Given all this, it is not an entirely unfair assessment to say I learned through practice rather than theory.
Summary of my path;
- Over 10 years of teaching experience, from various different demand levels.
- Both voluntary and paid teaching duties already as a student.
- Teaching assistant in a variety of some of the technically most challenging courses the faculty of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering has offered.
- Responsible teacher for courses inherited from others.
- Creator of new courses and teaching materials for my own courses.
Simo as a Teacher
My strengths as a teacher are 1) honesty, 2) transparency and 3) my passionate way of teaching.
I go all in.
I don’t consider lectures as something where I present a bunch of slides but opportunities to learn and develop my own thinking. To me, they are also opportunities to develop my “stage presence”, even if I’m no rock star. During my lectures, we talk a lot. We reflect and think about the world and how whatever is the topic at hands connects with it.
Finally, I consider myself not first and foremost as a teacher but as a researcher. To this end, I always involve students in the ongoing research of our research unit. I believe this is an excellent way to encourage the next generation of scientists and professionals while also learning a lot myself about the way the next generation thinks and perceives humans, computers and their relationship.
Philosophy and Learning Theories
I believe in constructivist teaching and, when possible, I tend to employ an approach based on traditional constructivism: My courses are interactive and students have to put in a significant amount of independent work. The students have to think build knowledge together rather than just receive it. For that, there’s YouTube.
More specifically, on all my classes I attempt to:
- Actively involve most of the classroom, at least once, in publicly present their opinions and viewpoints
- Have a flat hierarchy
- Organise the classes so that students’ autonomy is key for learning
This naturally gravitates toward team-based objectives and group work, which are also excellent in terms of learning work-life relevant skills and working as a team. At the same time, teamwork makes it feasible to assess students on the go and in different ways than by assigning individual exams to everyone. Discussion tends to be richer and more nuanced in teams, and I also typically facilitate debates in the classroom. I’m a proponent of reflection and open discussion rather than exams.
Developing Teaching & Experiments
I haven’t journeyed too far in experimenting with anything too novel: I use web-based tools a lot but nothing too wildly experimental.
As an example of my web-based methods, I stream all my lectures using YouTube and toy around with different online tools for reflections and peer-evaluations. Then again, I believe in traditional interaction as well: face-to-face meetings have not lost their superiority as a teaching modality in my eyes, and I enjoy it when I see students learning and engaging in discussions, whether it is in groups or one-on-one.
Maintenance and Reflections
As for maintaining my ability to teach, I focus on digital tools for the most part. I quite boldly try new tools and try to take a good critical look at what new tools should I use, at least a couple of weeks before a course starts. Other than that, I do not do any conscious maintenance of teaching skills – I think I am developing myself as a teacher rather organically as a byproduct of all the teaching.
What do the Students Say?
I like to believe my courses are well-received and that the students learn. I do not pay too much attention to the numerical feedback scores (which are typically high, approximately 4.5/5), as those can deceive. What really matters to me is that people feel like it is worth showing up to my teaching sessions.
“The overall way the course was organized was stellar since very few courses in the university deal with the relationship of humans and computers in this useful way! Personally, I think this is one of the most useful courses I have ever taken
Probably one of the best professors I've ever had. The whole class was eager to know what he would talk about the following day.
My future vision may be unorthodox but it is what I honestly think; We should stop “lecturing” altogether and simply obtain the best lecture materials on the planet, with money. Yes, buy them. Then, we simply focus on contact teaching in the form of practical work, reflections, discussions and assignments. This is, we do mostly group-based problem-solving, individual assignments, and a lot of creative work. Given how we would no longer have to spend resources on coming up with up-to-date materials for lecturing, we would be able to increase meaningful work-life collaboration and start preparing our students better for the world.