Teaching Technology Tips and Tricks

3 min read

Photo by Scott Graham

In his Tweet thread Josh W. Comeau shares a summary of some of the things he has learned while teaching programming subjects through blogs and online courses. In this post I want to review this thread and also add some extra tips and tricks I’ve learned myself while mentoring and teaching.

Tips and Tricks

  • Active learning > passive learning

Students are actively learning when they are writing code, they are passively learning when reading a blog post or watching a video. Active learning is more effective than passive learning but can be more difficult to maintain over long stretches of time. It is better to mix active and passive learning together by switching from one type to another.

  • Keep active and passive learning sessions short

By keeping a learning session short, for example 5 minutes of video or reading, students will be less likely to get distracted. Humans attention spans are short and trying to maintain long sessions is difficult. A collection of 5 minute videos covering active and passive learning will keep students engaged for longer and will make it easier for them to learn.

  • Keep the learning content fun

When content is dense, it can get boring very quickly. Try reading the Bitcoin whitepaper. Keep the content light and fun by using games or quizzes, ideally after a few smaller 5 minute lessons of active and passive learning. This will help the student remember what they have just learned.

  • Provide value immediately

When a student opens your video or blog post give them a quick win immediately. Right at the top of your content give them what they came for, and then go into more detail. This will provide value as soon as possible and will help them to contextualise the details as they continue through the course.

  • Leverage what the student already knows

If your teaching JavaScript it’s likely the student has a technical background, use some technical subject in analogies. If a student can relate to the content they are learning they will be more engaged and it will be easier for them to learn. Analogies let students use a mental model they already have and apply it to what they are currently learning. Innovation!.

  • Guide on the side, not Sage on the stage

“Sage on the stage” teaching is when the teacher is lecturing their students from the top of the classroom, no hands-on practical work. In my experience of education this is the most popular form of teaching style. However, “Guide on the side” style teaching is using your skills to engage with students in first-hand learning. This can be done through small projects. Design your videos and blogs around projects, instead of only lecturing specific topics without any opportunity to apply the learning.

  • Review content regularly

Reviewing previous content helps students to retain what they have learned for longer. As your course is progressing re-introduce topics from previous videos or articles. Or reference videos and articles from another course that the student may have already completed. This will get students to review those things they have already learned and will etch it into their brains. Spaced repetition works!.

  • Separate concept from syntax

Concept is how the thing should work, syntax is what code to write to apply the concept. Try to first teach the concept and then the syntax to apply that concept. Mixing the two can make it more difficult to learn and retain the information. An example of this is a Parsons Problem, provide lines of code that are out of order and then allow the student to arrange them correctly.

Conclusion

In this post I reviewed a Tweet thread by Josh W. Comeau where he summaries some tips on teaching technology. I listed those tips here expanding a little on each one. Through this review I have learned of the Space repetition technique, the book Teaching Tech Together, and the math teacher Eddie Woo. I’m hoping to apply what I have learned here to be a more effective teacher and mentor.

References

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