Murder by Teaching

I just had a student accuse me of bloody murder and trying to kill them all, in an email. I must be doing something right at the university.

The students are just thoroughly not prepared for a teaching style like mine – where I actually treat them like adults. I give them the open space and freedom to explore and do whatever that they think is right.

For one, although I am teaching engineering I ask some fairly open-ended and argumentative questions in the tests and exams. In the mid-term test, I asked them to classify and justify whether an FM radio was a digital, analogue or mixed system. The default answer given by most engineers would be – analogue. However, some students answered – mixed – as large parts of modern FM radios are digital. I accept both answers as valid but only if it was justified.

For another, in their semester project, I asked them to design a small part of a digital system – either the transmitter or receiver portion of an RS232 or SPI module. I even pointed them towards the largest code repository in the world – OpenCores – encouraging them to use the many examples there. I did not even specify how they should implement it nor how they should demonstrate it as I left it to them to decide for themselves based on their skills and capabilities.

If they are really good, and can successfully implement it in hardware, good for them. If not, they can always demo it to me in software. Or even worse, if they fail to implement it completely, they can just show me what they’ve got in software. Heck, I even limited their project reports to under 6-pages!

I have even shown the previous lecturer the stuff that I get them to do in order to get some feedback on my teaching work and we both agree that the work is straight-forward and simple. I’m not expecting any of them to do rocket-science.

Honestly, now I get accused of bloody murder.

Some of these kids have no idea how much I am actually trying to help them learn and think. Well, I guess that teaching is a noble profession for a reason – it’s a thankless job. All I hope is that these kids will think of me fondly when they start to face some real problems in the future.


Published by

Shawn Tan

Chip Doctor, Chartered/Professional Engineer, Entrepreneur, Law Graduate.

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