5 lessons that teaching has taught me

15 March 2018

During the last year and a half I got the opportunity to teach at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. The topic I taught was Human Computer Interaction: a first-year course to get students familiar with basics of UI and UX design. The first part of the course consisted of four half-day workshops that combined lecture and assignments for the ultimate learning experience, topped off with an exam. The second part contained an individual interaction design assignment with two one-on-one feedback sessions with yours truly.

This experience has taught me a lot of things. I think everybody should take this opportunity, if it presents itself. Here’s why.

Teaching has made me ...

a better facilitator
Group dynamics is a fascinating thing. The experience of giving the exact same lecture to different groups of students varied greatly. The one group stays quiet and listens, where the other group stays glued to their phones, paying no attention at all. It was my job as a teacher to tell a story that is both educational and also sticks. By keeping the theoretical parts interactive, and giving enough examples the students can relate to, I tried keeping the students involved. I have learned to find a balance in playing police officer and actually teaching. Often just ignoring the phone addicts was better practice than constantly giving them my attention and energy. However, I have grown more comfortable addressing peoples’ behaviour when facilitating.

a better improviser
First-year students assume more than graduation students. While this is all nice and well, it also has a downside. The real fun starts when during the lecture a student disagrees or starts asking difficult questions. This will challenge your knowledge on the spot. I could prepare all I want, but I never knew what the questions were going to be. I learned to stay calm, rephrase the question, and ask a question back, in order to make sure we meant the same thing.

a better UX designer
It’s true! You will become a better [insert job description here]. I had never been formally schooled in UX or UI design (I did Industrial Design Engineering). Sure, I unconsciously applied principles of UI design like clarity, concision and consistency in my daily work. The creative process is similar. Nevertheless, having to explain to first-years why something works a certain way required me to dive into the basics again. While doing client work now, I hear myself explaining the Human Computer Interaction topics in my head, to make sure I consciously apply them.

5 lessons that teaching has taught me

Teaching has taught me ...

to better separate the main topics from less important ones
A totally new challenge for me were the one-to-one talks: in 15 minutes a student presents his or her work, asks questions, and receives feedback from me. Sounds easy enough. Wrong! There is usually never enough time to give feedback on everything. I have learned to separate the most important topics from the less important ones. I had to treat each student individually: using a spiffy micro-interaction in the credit card form won’t save your UX design when the main flow is so illogical a user won’t even get to the payment page. This was much harder when I started out, because I had the idea I was forgetting things.

5 lessons that teaching has taught me

Teaching has inspired me

Most inspiration came from students who surprised me
There was this student who was always present during lectures, but never stood out. In the design assignment, she really shone. She was really enthusiastic during the first talk, and we brainstormed about how to improve her designs. In the second talk she presented her work with such pride, and I could hardly think of anything that she could have done better. The flow was good, the details were interesting, and also the work was set up in a smart way. Where most students who use pen and paper for their assignment draw every screen separately, she scanned her sketches and printed them as templates. This saved her time and made sure everything looked consistent. Needless to say, she got the highest grade in the class.

There you have it: 5 lessons I learned from teaching. And it’s not about the way or context in which you teach. It’s about transferring knowledge and sharing what you know. Spreading the word.

So what are you waiting for?

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