Most of the time, I really do like my job--I get to teach interesting topics to interested students, and that's a lot of fun.
There are times, however, when I really wonder why I left behind the relatively stable world of library science for the chasing-your-tail world of cutting edge technologies.
Take, for example, the web-database class that I developed four years ago--not particularly long in most academic lifecycles. At the time, PHP and ASP were the cutting edge technologies du jour, and students came into the class knowing nothing about PHP, MySQL, or ASP.
Over the past several years, a number of factors have signficantly changed the context for the class.
- Students now learn MySQL in their introductory database class
- Component-based technologies like JSP and .NET have emerged as successors to page-based technologies like PHP and ASP
As a result, before I've really even solidified the course in its original form, I'm having to learn entirely new technologies and teach to a differently prepared audience. All of which, as any teacher will tell you, is more than a little stress-inducing.
I've spent most of the past two weeks trying to re-teach myself JSP, this time incorporating Tomcat 5 and JSTL. The nice part of using JSTL is that it hides all the Java code from me--and since I never did learn to program in Java, that's a goodness. The downside is the documentation really stinks--I've found a ton of web sites, but none of them are clear and direct, particularly when it comes to doing simple database-related tasks.
After four days of banging my head against the code, I've finally figured out how to do the simplest of tasks--retrieve several hundred records from a MySQL database and display them ten at a time. Oy.
The future, I think, is to let go of the traditional approach of teaching how to do things in a specific language, and instead offer a more studio-like environment in which students are given access to resources and tools, and then work on developing a project. (We teach most of our classes in "studio mode," but in most cases they're far from real studio approaches--they're lectures with occasional hands-on exercises.) Surprisingly, it's the students who are often most resistant to this mode of teaching--we've successfully conditioned them to see school as a series of core dumps, and switching gears into a more user-directed model often generates resentment and confusion rather than enthusiasm and creativity.