Teaching and public speaking

I was standing in front of the class, with a heavy lump in my throat and my heart pumping blood so hard I could feel the blood throbbing in my brain.

My primary school teacher told everyone in the class that all of us had to do a short presentation. The topic could be on anything. An incident, or hobby description, whatever. The point was to get us to speak in front of the class.

So I talked about David Eddings (my favourite author. Still is). I talked about his book about the powerful jewel named Blue Rose. And I talked about one of his characters (Kalten) mistaking something.

“And so they defenestrated him.”
“They did what?!? That’s a terrible thing to do to a man.” said Kalten.
“They threw him out of the window.”
Pause.
“Oh.”

Just in case you’re wondering, Kalten thought that man was castrated. Which would be a terrible thing to do to a man.

No response from the class, even the boys. Apparently 11 (10? 12? Can’t remember…) year olds are too young to understand the loss of genitalia…

And so I’m wondering, aren’t teachers also public speakers? Granted the audience typically isn’t big, but teachers still go up in front of everyone and start talking (well, teaching, but let’s not split hairs over semantics).

It’s a wonder how university professors get students to learn anything. When I last left university, professors were graded on their ability to teach. Possibly as a criteria to continuing their tenure. We take education seriously here in Singapore.

In closing, I’ll be teaching a course (up in 3 more days!). It’s called OpenXML Spreadsheet Boot Camp, a programming course on Open XML spreadsheets. Half the course is about dissecting the behaviour of Microsoft Excel, so you might find that interesting even if you don’t use the Open XML SDK or Open XML spreadsheets in general.

Sometimes, new problems appear after solutions are made

So I had a discussion at Hackerspace (I’ve a video for you soon), and Preetam mentioned something about iPads. He said that schools are using iPads for education, and there’s an interesting problem.

Teachers using the iPads as teaching aids want to move around the classroom. With the iPad, the teacher can project information on her iPad to the screen. But the moving around was a problem, because the iPad needed some connecting wire thingy to the projector.

Well you might say that Apple should have considered making wireless projection of the iPad screen seemless.

But I want you to consider this. If tablets weren’t available, and thus teachers could carry tablets around, would the problem of using the tablet to project information wirelessly even exist?

In the pre-Industrial age, practically everyone was working on the land. If you don’t grow food, you don’t get to eat.

The thing about working on farms is that there’s always something to do. (Just ask any Farmville player…) There are cows to be milked, chickens to feed, eggs to collect, grains to harvest.

In the Industrial age, factories made everything systematic and efficient, and our lives became better. You need to be at the factory at this time. You will go for your lunch break at this time. And most important for our discussion here, you can go home at this time.

This created a problem humans never faced before. Suddenly, we had free time.

What are we going to do with it?

Students don’t graduate because…

… because they’ve lost hope.

They’ve lost hope that:

  • they can fulfill degree requirements (some subjects are tough!)
  • they can actually graduate
  • (more importantly) they can graduate in a shorter time so they pay less tuition fees
  • they can get a good job with that degree

And so they give up. They’ve lost hope. They don’t believe anymore.

A degree can still be useful. But the current educational and economic outlook doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in the immediate use of a degree.

Educational institutes mostly teach students towards knowledge that’s known. I mean, your professor won’t set a question that he can’t answer, right? The world we now live in rewards those who solve the unknown, possibly even seeking questions that weren’t ever asked.

Teachers need to start teaching students to face the unknowable. They need to instill hope in the next generation.