Sebastian Thrun is Awesome

I’m doing the Stanford online AI class this year, taught by Professor’s Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig. And up in week 5, unit 11 is Markov Decision Processes (MDPs), Hidden Markov Models (HMMs) and State Transition Probabilities. Sounds dry, right?

Check this out…

Oh. My. God.

As a teacher myself, and one who genuinely tries hard to interest and engage students, Sebastian is a role-model. How absolutlely RARING-TO-GO is he?! To paraphrase: “I CAN’T WAIT to teach you all about this, and that, and this other cool shit! And you can use it for all kinds of neat stuff! Woo-hoo!” =DDD

And yeah, the course isn’t easy, and it requires time and effort and commitment – but it’s fun! And it’s rewarding, and I’m inspired as a student, and blown-away as a teacher.

If more teachers had this kind of passion, I sincerely believe that the world would be an entirely different place.

One Week as a Teacher

Just finished my very first week teaching – and quite an experience it’s been!

Firstly – I’ve never been a great fan of public speaking. When giving presentations to military big-wigs and company suits in the past I’ve got nervous. Not cripplingly so, but the kicker is this: Just before I’m up to speak I’d get this MONSTER surge of adrenalin, which would take 10 minutes to wear off. And for those 10 minutes my heart would be doing double-time and my hands visibly trembled. I literally shook until the adrenalin wore off and I could carry on clearly.

Probably not suited to standing infront of class after class you might think – but it all turned out okay. I was pretty sure it would wear off with time and that if I could just avoid the pre-kick-off panic I could make it through okay, and with time the fear would dissipate and all that would remain would be me, the class, and the material to teach.

And I was right.

I was nervous for round 1 – and meeting a class of 20+ new people twice in a day on Tuesday was a bit of a deep-end experience, but I got through it pretty well, I think. The students range from 17 to 47, and they want to learn! So get on with it, man! Teach them!

I’m doing the “Gamers” (Multimedia) course in C++ Programming and Multimedia itself, and it’s okay. Some of the kids want to be developers, some want to be games designers, some want to be animators. Some have an idea about a game they’d like to make, and want to gain the skills to make it – and fair play to them – they have a vision and they’re pursuing it. They might not realise how difficult programming is quite yet, and I really hope I don’t put them off – but the facts are that some people should not code.

There are two streams of C++ classes, 20-ish people a class – and you can easily tell the people who will do well, and the people who don’t have an aptitude for it. But – no matter aptitude or not I’m determined that if they’re willing to put in the effort to try, I’ll put in absolutely everything I can – and help them in any way I can. If that means answering their questions outside of class, putting on extra voluntary classes one a week – then whatever it takes.

The only bugbear with the teaching lark I’ve got at the moment is the amount of time it takes to make slides. I’ve been given teaching notes; some as text files, some as word docs – but you can’t really teach from them – so I’ve been making up powerpoints for each lesson. And it takes 2-3 hours to make an hours worth of slides. And I teach 11 hours a week. It’s a lot of time, and a lot of slides.

Apart from that, everything has been really good – The uni is very nice, the other teachers are helpful and kind, the students are decent (even if a couple have learning difficulties and require extra attention), and the hours (slides excepted) are great. I’m really happy with it =D

Oh, and the money is pretty good, too, way more than I was previously earning per hour.. hehe =D [Less hours per week though, so overall I’m down, but with any luck I can pick up some other classes, do some cover work etc – and when I get this slide stuff streamlined will end up with a stack of free time].

Overall I like it, and is seems to like me.

Good stuff =D

Note: If you have a stack of slides and take them to class on a usb pen drive, make sure you also email them to your work address so you don’t get there, find the drive is b0rked, and end up calling up your GF to email in your slides and class exercises for the day!! (Thanks, Andrea!!)

Live and learn!