antipaucity

fighting the lack of good ideas

the good, the bad, and the ugly

I have had many teachers through the course of my life, and expect to have many more as time goes on. But something I have been able to identify very quickly about every teacher I’ve ever had, are their strengths and weaknesses of teaching the topic at hand.

My favorite college professor is Dale Bryant, the long-time computer science teacher at Hudson Valley Community College. Dale’s approach to teaching was fun, energetic, and engaging. And he was under the impression that if you wanted to learn, any way you could was great. If the way he discussed and presented material didn’t click with you, he didn’t mind if you went searching elsewhere for an explanation that worked for you. This happened many times with my friend John Deignan who would routinely ask me questions about programming concepts in general: object-oriented issues, library questions, the ‘how does this work’, and the ‘why do it this way instead of that way’ questions.

For John, Dale’s explanation of template classes and functions in C++ didn’t gel. But with both more time available, and an understanding of his personality, I was able to come up with a metaphor that worked for him.

I have been fortunate to have very few teachers who were bad, and even fewer who were ugly. One of my first-semester instructors at HVCC, in trying to teach us Excel and Access discovered that she didn’t know how to do the assignments in the book. And her idea of teaching was to ask questions of the class, and then practically shout the answer out if no one spoke up within about 10 seconds.

Contrast that approach with my calculus teacher who had (either on his own, or discovered) come up with little songs and ditties to help us remember how to do derivatives – including his famous quotient derivative rule song to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it”. Or my discrete structures professor who would crack jokes about having an 8AM class full of computer science folks who don’t start cogitating until lunch time.

Unfortunately, this semester I have had the experience of having another bad teacher. The first day of class sounded promising, and I was actually looking forward to his approach, but he quickly showed an inability to teach. He may know the material, and be able to perform the tasks required in database consulting and administration, but he can’t teach it. I had a leg-up on the rest of the class in having taken a couple database classes in the past, and of designing and implementing several on my own for either other classes, or personal projects. But when even the folks who have been to every class aren’t “getting it” (not just those who have missed half the classes), I have to wonder whether or not he knows what he’s doing.

The common trait across all the good teachers I’ve had has been interest in the subject. Whether it’s literature, composition, programming, terrorism, or something else, good teachers are interested in the material. The common trait I’ve seen across those few excellent teachers I’ve had has been the ability to connect with students, and not hold themselves above the student, but rather to remember what it’s like to not know yet.

The bad and ugly teachers I’ve had have shared something too, they’ve all been unable to communicate – and they’ve all forgotten what it’s like to not know. Some of them haven’t known the material, or have not cared. But they’ve all been unable to connect with their students.

I don’t know how good teachers appear. It might be by birth, upbringing, discipline, predisposition, personality, or because they had a great teacher who inspired them. Maybe it’s a combination of all of those factors. To those who are just blasé, I hope you can become better. To you who plain suck – please quit: you’re doing more harm than good.

But to those great teachers out there, thank you for your efforts – we notice.

dating sites

I’ve noticed (for a while now) that most dating and matching sites are all pay based. What I want to know is why? Yahoo! Personals, for example, requires a monthly subscription fee to use it for more than browsing. eHarmony is famous for allowing free scanning, but they charge a (seemingly high) monthly rate. Match.com also uses a subscription system. There are myriad others out there that all use the same basic concept – allow people to create a profile free, but as soon as they want to really use the service, it’s going to cost them.

It would seem to me that such a service should be able to be built and run based only on non-subscription revenue. Many people make a stable income from such services as Google’s AdSense. On high-traffic sites, that income has been reported to be as high as $100k/month or more. Even if it took some time to get the service noticed and utilized, I think such a service could be constructed and run entirely off ad revenues. A quick survey of available hosting packages from just one company shows dedicated servers with 4TB/month or transfer and 30GB of space for $99/month.

With such space and bandwidth available, and especially with the bonus of total administrative freedom of a dedicated box, I don’t see why someone doesn’t launch a free dating site. Basic requirements would include a demographics survey, space for an ‘about me’ narrative, a search feature, place to store a small collection of pictures, and some way to contact other members (email via scripted page?). I think it should also have a way of verifying members when they register for the site – a combination of captcha and email /text message exchange – to ensure that scripts aren’t registering bogus people.

A simple policy of “we won’t share your information with anyone without your permission, and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any profile on our site – please report suspicious activity to us at…” should absolve the administrators of any legal repurcussions if something doesn’t work out between members. Obviously, a lawyer should be consulted to get precise wording, but I think this has great potential.

Another feature that could be offered would be private or internal messages – like eBay uses. Members could intentionally change their message delivery preferences to have them delivered to their personal e-mail address, but would default to storing them on the server so that you have to login to communicate. Users should be able to block people they do not want to hear from in the future, too.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, and would be interested in building something like this with some help. If anyone reading this is interested in such an endeavour, please contact me.