Statement on Teaching
Teaching philosophies often concentrate on the high level skills that teachers believe should be provided to students. However, I believe that before the skills can be taught, an appropriate environment needs to be created. Thus my teaching philosophy centers around the concept of providing students with challenging material in an environment of respect.
I believe that both challenge and respect is required for an effective learning environment. Without challenge, a student will finish a course with a vague feeling of dissatisfaction, as if nothing was learned during the course. Without respect, a student will finish a course having resisted truly learning the subject and with the desire to forget the experience promptly. Regardless of the skills the teacher aims to provide, without challenge and respect, the skills will not be maintained upon completion of the course.
I have endeavored to incorporate both of these concepts into all of my teaching. I have tried to challenge students to learn quickly, to question what is presented to them, and to search for information beyond what is presented in the classroom. I have high expectations of their performance, and have never been disappointed. Of course, high expectations of a class come with a price --- the professor must be prepared for every class and must demonstrate the same commitment to teaching the material that the students are expected to demonstrate in learning the material. Additionally, this is a difficult requirement to maintain because students often do not immediately appreciate being challenged, as they often view it as "extra work"!
I show respect for students through simple gestures, such as learning their names, being pleasant and helpful, and listening to what they have to say. The result of showing respect is that students are more open to discussing their ideas, and are more likely to seek help when they need it, thus improving their overall performance. The course evaluations for two of the three courses I have taught included asking if the professor "treat[s] with respect". This was the category on which I scored highest, with an average of 4.3 (out of 5.0) for one course (where 75 evaluations were submitted) and 4.2 for the second course (where 27 evaluations were submitted), with a mode of 5.0 for both courses. (My overall performance was rated at 3.8 and 3.4 respectively, both with a mode of 4.0.)
I also believe that the teaching environment extends far beyond the classroom, and that it is not confined to teacher-student relationships. Teaching can not only take the form of formal classes, but can also occur during informal conversations. I have demonstrated my commitment to this belief by maintaining an open door policy, allowing students the opportunity to stop by to talk at any time. This extended to students who had already completed courses with me, and to those students who either were currently working for me (when I was a Systems Manager for the Faculty of Computer Science at Dalhousie University) or who had worked for me previously. The result was that students would often bring other issues to my attention that were not related to course material, but that had a negative impact on the learning environment in general.
In keeping with my philosophy that teaching happens everywhere, I endeavored to teach my student staff while I was the Systems Manager for the Faculty of Computer Science at Dalhousie University. As a testament to that belief, I received two emails that stand out in my mind. The first email was sent to me from a former Help Desk employee and current part-time employee upon hearing that I was resigning my position to pursue my PhD, commenting "it was a great experience and I learned/learning a ton." The second email was sent to me by a graduating student who had worked on the Help Desk, who sent an email to myself and two other people in the Faculty, stating "You are receiving this e-mail because I remember you as being one of the many that has been particularly helpful to me at sometime in the past five years. I have deemed your contribution to my pursuit of self-improvement, whether it be large or small, was vital to my success in the field of computer science."
As a graduate student, I was overwhelmed by the positive response I received to the study group I lead during a faculty strike in 2002. Often, if students emailed me with a question or problem, they would also make statements such as "Thanks a lot for your wonderful lectures! They are very useful!" Following the strike, I received an email from one student asking if I would continue holding tutorials for the rest of the term. I continued tutoring a third student, who emailed me when she got her mark to say "I got the A-. I did so good in my final, i got a 90 and that brought my mark up. Thank you for all the wonderful help you gave." On the last day of the study groups, I also received a thank-you card signed by many of the students.
However, I feel that my key accomplishment occurred when I was the Systems Manager for the Faculty of Computer Science: the development of a Learning Centre. This is a centre staffed by senior undergraduate and graduate students, where students can receive help on any concepts they are finding difficult in the core undergraduate courses. I was responsible for proposing this Centre and obtaining funding for it. While I was the Systems Manager, I was also responsible for staffing it every term, and for its day-to-day operations. I first proposed this Centre in the Fall of 1998, and I am proud to say that it is still in operation today.
I want to develop and teach two graduate courses on computer and communications security. The first course will be reasonably broad and cover a number of different security topics, such as network security, access control, audit mechanisms, authentication, identity management, trust negotiation and usability. My approach to teaching this course will consist of a combination of lectures and student-led seminars. The second course will be seminar-based, focusing specifically on intrusion detection and network security. Some of the issues it will cover include attribution and traceback, evaluation methodologies, detection approaches, mitigation strategies, and usability issues.