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Burris Lists
Teaching Tips

david burris We asked David Burris, winner of the 2000 Excellence in Teaching Award, for his approach to teaching. This is what he said:

Every student can learn. Part of the challenge is to determine the level at which each student functions and supply challenges appropriate to their level. There is always a minimum level of performance but the average class contains students at a wide range of knowledge and ability levels. Care must be taken to challenge the most aggressive student without alienating those functioning at lower acceptable levels. All students deserve a teacher's best efforts.

Professional consulting has provided me with far more academic skills than I had ever anticipated. Skills ranging for presentation methodology, expanding my horizons with respect to computing theory in general, ethics, and extensive experiences that can be used in the classroom to motivate students. Consulting has taught me many important lessons which have carried over into my attitudes and teaching methodology including:

1) Organization is everything, time is money. To maximize the amount of information I can cover in a fixed period of time, I have developed a set of lecture notes for every class, typically from 2 to 7 three-ring binders. These notes are typed and illustrated. The lecture notes for every class are available to students for the cost of duplication. I utilize these notes in class with color overheads to help emphasize important ideas and indicate important relationships. When the notes are in more than one volume, I always tell the students ahead of time which volume they will need for the next class. For several classes, these notes serve as the text. For most classes, one or more traditional textbooks supplement my notes. I have included some of the notebooks for your examination as well as sample colored overheads. I have found the addition of color to lecture materials is very effective and have been using the technique for over 10 years. The Department of Mathematics, Computer Science, and Statistics obtained a color laser printer with grant money in the fall of 1999 to make this technology available to all members of the faculty.

2) They're not gorillas. The customer not only expects an excellent technical job, they except the oral and written delivery of results to be concise, accurate, and allow the customer to maximize learning while minimizing gorilla work such as taking notes. The above discussion addresses many techniques that help ameliorate these concerns. Industrial experience where the customer is only willing to pay for quality will help anyone to improve their written and oral communication delivery. In truth, much of the illustrative materials used by faculty in university classrooms would result in dismissal in the corresponding industrial situation.

3) The client expects functional models to help them with concepts after the expert leaves the premises. I have developed extensive software libraries for every class I teach. Theses libraries are available to all students on the Storm network. These directories not only contain many megabytes of examples for every class I teach, they also contain extensive amounts of my lecture notes for selected classes.

4) Limited use of computers in the classroom with appropriate projection equipment is very effective. It requires a great deal of effort to learn how to use computers effectively in the classroom without wasting time.

5) I do not require attendance in any class. A client does not wish to listen to poorly presented material, material presented with amateurish looking overheads, material they do not feel is pertinent, or material that they have already mastered. If you want students to attend class, teach in a manner that the student is unwilling to miss class due to perceived value. Keep an appropriate amount of material on the "bleeding edge" to increase student interest.

6) Feedback in the shortest possible time frame. People waiting for feedback are not operating at their highest capacity. I return all homework and tests the next period. This does lead to due dates and test dates falling mostly on Thursday and Friday so I have the weekend to grade. Students really appreciate timely return of tests and other assignments. I have not failed to return a test the next period for over 10 years. Tests are normally essay with an expectation of 6 to 12 pages of response per student who completes the test satisfactorily. My average class size is between 25 and 40.

7) Complete or partial answer sheets to tests and labs should frequently be provided. Posting these materials on the web or placing them at the library reserve desk decreases the learning curve for future students and increases the volume of learning in succeeding semesters. Students really appreciate additional sources of information when preparing for examinations.

8) Reporting Grades. A review of all recorded grades should be distributed at least a week prior to the final exam in upper level courses. In freshman level classes, grades must be distributed more frequently, especially in time for students to make an educated decision prior to the drop deadline. If there is bad news, get it out in the open as soon as possible. Freshmen in particular as a group have not reached the desired level of personal accountability. I pass out grades in all classes calculated with a spreadsheet. The grade slip projects their final grade taking into account potential drop grades and other considerations. I report all grades on tests when the test is returned so that all students know where they stand with respect to all other students in the class.

9) Watch for what the customer really wants but is unwilling to ask for. Customers do not always feel comfortable admitting they are remiss in an area they feel they should know. Likewise, students develop perceptions from friends, newspapers, and other information sources about what they perceive is necessary for their future success in life. Right or wrong addressing these concerns is important. This semester, I presented an eight hour seminar (in one hour blocks) on the use of Java for client server applications, servlets, cookies, RMI, and database access. This non-credit, voluntary seminar had an average attendance in excess of 45 students per period and resulted in a distribution of over 75 copies of the handouts. In previous years I have offered other seminars with similar results on other topics, e.g., topics such as professional certification exam preparation. Students appreciate faculty willing to listen to perceived needs and make the extra effort.

10) Service. We all encounter opportunities to provide service to students and our colleagues that exceed the requirements of the job. These opportunities may or may not be directly connected to the classroom. Help may consist of extra time outside of class, providing a resource for a colleague, or just helping a student find himself or herself. Meeting these needs of students and colleagues separates the average teacher from the truly good teacher.

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SHSU Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
April 26, 2000
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