In this section, Professor Short weighs in on the importance of valuing teaching and being responsive to students’ concerns.
OCW: What else would you like to add about teaching this course?
PROFESSOR SHORT: I like teaching this course because it’s a lot of fun. That’s really why I’m in teaching in the first place. And it’s important for educators to enjoy what they’re doing. At places like MIT, research is number one, and for some folks teaching can be a distraction. The researchers here are often passionate educators, and everyone I know here has the capability to teach great classes. But we all can do a lot more with our teaching. Once in a while I feel it to be a distraction, too. And then I remember why I chose the faculty route and not the research scientist route, because I really do like to teach.
I hope that every educator, whether at a research school or not, remembers why they decided on the education route, and that their responsibility is to educate and not just to further their own research agenda. To me, busy is a four-letter word—it’s a way of saying, “I’m de-prioritizing you.” I don’t think any educator should be too busy to put as much time into their teaching as their research.
OCW: What’s the rant page, and how does it shape your teaching?
PROFESSOR SHORT: The rant page is an anonymous, simple, online comment form that I wrote where students can tell me things that they want changed. I try my best to collect in-person feedback from the students, both one-on-one and in class, but some students don’t feel comfortable telling a professor, “I don’t like what you’re doing.” So I give them a place to do so completely anonymously. Creating the rant form took only about 20 lines of code. It wasn’t hard.
So now I get real-time comments like, “I can’t read your writing.” Then I know to slow it down. Or, “I really wish you wouldn’t slow the class down for this one student’s incessant questions.” So I know to limit each student to a few questions if it gets to be too much. And I reassure the students in class that it’s safe to raise these concerns because it’s anonymous. I have literally no way of knowing who wrote a given comment. But if one person wrote it, probably a lot of them are thinking it.
And it makes the students feel good to know that they can make a suggestion at 2 AM and then by 10 AM it will be addressed. The class can change in real time, and they know they have the power to shape their own learning. It’s a way to empower the students with zero consequences to them.