Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some Lessons from Teaching

It has been a long time since I've touched on this subject but it's worth a review. In addition to my consulting practice, I've taught an on-line class in business law at a local college for several years. My students can be from anywhere in the world, many are already out in the business world, and it is not unusual to have military personnel who are stationed overseas.

There are several things that I've noticed as an instructor that I wish I'd known or fully appreciated as a student. Among them are:
  1. Ask questions. This is standard advice and yet most students don't do it. I've offered to provide feedback to students on drafts of their papers prior to submission of the one to be scored and only a small fraction will ever take me up on that. Far from resenting questions, most instructors are glad to see someone who's interested.
  2. Read the instructions. Detailed information on frequently asked questions can be posted and yet emails will arrive demonstrating that the student didn't go near the announcements. It's also surprising to see how many students fail to read test instructions.
  3. Put the concepts into plain language. I tell students that if they can't explain a concept in basic terms to a friend then they probably don't understand the concept. It is easy to spot the person who understands one aspect of a subject while missing the big picture. In many topics, you can quickly lose sight of the trails and get lost in the jungle.
  4. Get a quick read on the style of the instructor. I'm very lax on granting extensions, merciful to a fault on grading essays, but won't budge on a final score. I also hate any test questions that are more into trivia than substance. Other instructors go far in the opposite direction.
  5. Learn how to take tests. If the essay question seems too easy, you have probably missed something.
  6. Write well. There is a natural bias in favor of a well-written essay.
  7. Remember that the instructor was once a student. We notice wide margins, rambling, failure to give direct answers, and padding.

Now consider how many of the above points can be applied to the workplace.

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