Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Joy of Teaching at an IIT - 1

It just went like a breeze! Here I am writing this blog after one year of my academic career at IIT Jodhpur. My first year of teaching at IIT Jodhpur got over before I could even come to terms with things completely. Nevertheless, it was a truly enriching experience for me over the past one year. Four full courses (one of them had 146 students), two laboratory courses, few lectures for a third course (see my last post) all in 2012-13. I always loved to teach on black board as I have the opinion that teaching in this manner enables one to explain the concepts coherently. This also helped me to interact more with the students rather than being monotonous.

I never believed that I would be able to contribute to this much amount of teaching in my first year of academic career. IIT Jodhpur students should be credited for this amazing journey which I took over the past one year. I hope they did not feel an overdose of my teaching. They should be complimented for keeping me on toes every lecture and extracting the maximum I could provide. Classroom teaching was always my passion ever since I was a  teaching assistant (TA) at IIT Bombay. In this blog, I will write about the two courses I taught during the first semester.

The first course which kick-started my academic career was Programming and Data Structures (PDS) for the first semester BTech students at IITJ. There were 146 of them in my class to be exact. It was a great class comprising of different types of students. I felt it odd when students called me 'Sir' the first time ever in my life. Though I am not from computer science background, I have working on different algorithms and into full fledged programming for the past ten years. PDS course taught me that programming oneself is much easier than teach someone to program. I found that the best way to teach a programming course is to write the entire algorithm and program on the board and explain each line of the code with the logical flow. In between the lectures, I used to wake up the sleeping students to just relax myself a bit. I should thank them as well for providing a lot of entertainment during the lectures.

The lab sessions clubbed with the lecture sessions helped me track the progress of each and every student. I used to give lecture in the morning and go to lab in the afternoon. I reckon that I know the names of almost 80-90% of the class comprising of 146 students. I will never forget the PDS course as it shaped my teaching abilities, students of PDS course who were vigilant throughout are highly responsible for that. I taught C and some C++ in the course using basic algorithms such as computations, searching, and sorting. Dedicated TAs made my life easier during the lab sessions.

I taught another course in my first semester called Computational Photography (CP) as an elective for final year BTech students. I was surprised to see 24 students register for that course even though I was a new faculty then. Pressure was on me from day one to deliver the best I could. I felt myself in an awkward position not to dash the hopes of the students who opted for this elective. It was a quite challenging course as most of the CP techniques were developed in the past 15 years or so.

I used to read a lot of research papers and teach from them as there is no standard textbook available exclusively to teach CP course yet. Though I followed Szeliski's book, I am still waiting for the book by Ramesh Raskar and Jack Tumblin to get published. I primarily focused on edge preserving filters, gradient domain processing, HDR imaging, and selected applications in the course. At the end of the course, I felt I did some justice to the course but was not fully satisfied with myself in explaining some concepts. This feeling helped me teach an advanced course much better in the next semester.

These two courses  really helped me figure out what classroom teaching at an IIT is all about. It exposed some of the weaknesses I had while trying to explain tricky concepts. The feedback from students also helped me a lot to perform more justice to the courses I taught in the following semester. For these reasons alone, these two courses will be close to my heart ever. These were the courses which helped me realize the dream of becoming a teacher and I would like to thank all the students in these two courses for their encouragement, cooperation, and support.

P.S: Courses at IIT Jodhpur - Details


Sudharsan said...

Very happy to see you enjoy the work you do.

Who ever reading this comment - I am really proud to say that I have shared classes and few times same bench with Shanmuganathan in school days.

Zafar said...

I sat in some of your classes at IIT-J. Indeed you take your job very seriously! I congratulate you for your professionalism and dedication:) Hoping that you would keep up the good work.

aamjunta said...

Well said Prof. Shanmuga. Congratulations!!

Teaching at IITs is completely different and that to teaching undergraduate courses is a big task and responsibility. The joy of teaching is some thing cannot be expressed or explained, it has to be felt. Being a teacher, I can see how happy you are.

Encourage students to ask more and more questions... that is a major problem in India, be it in IITs or non-IITs and share your experience with us...

Shanmuganathan Raman said...

@ Sudharsan @ Zafar @ aamjunta Thanks for the comments!

ThoughtWorks said...

Way to go Shanmuga, nice to hear you are enjoying your work.

Giridhar Agoram said...

Nice one Shanmuga! Read this one and the next. To teach someone is one of the toughest things to do and you are putting efforts to be a good teacher.

With some practice, you would master this, no doubts!

Shanmuganathan Raman said...

@Giridhar Thanks!