Philosophy

I strive to be a different kind of professor. On this page, here are my thoughts on how to best connect with students in the classroom and ensure long-term learning.

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

—Benjamin Franklin

In no particular order, I strive to abide by the following principles in my classes:

Active Learning

As the quote below above evinces, I believe in the importance of active learning. Put differently, I try to minimize the number of pure lectures over the course of a semester. Sure, sometimes they are necessary, but as much as I can I develop interactive exercises designed to teach and reinforce critical thinking. Beyond individual in-class exercises, though, my students learn a great deal on their capstone projects in part because of the way that I choose to seek them out.

Self-Improvement

With every book, I become a better writer. Why stop there?

The second time that I teach a course I consistently do better than the first time. My student evaluations support that statement and I’ve written about what I can learn from them

In other words, Homer Simpson is right. I strive to improve my performance every semester. This involves both quantitative and qualitative feedback. No, I can’t reach every student, but I can keep pushing the envelope. I can try to make my classes more meaningful and engaging every semester.

Technology and Experimentation

I believe in experimentation. This doesn’t just mean in new types of exercises. In my relatively short time at ASU, I’ve introduced new tools in the classroom such as WordPress and Slack. I’m particularly fond of the latter, as are some of my more progressive colleagues. (Click here to learn more about how I use tech in the classroom.)

I discourage the use of laptops in class. There’s plenty of research to back this up, but this New York Times article provides a nice summary.

Staying Current

I also believe strongly in staying current. This means integrating tech- and data-related news stories into the classroom and suggesting articles in Slack. (See the screenshot on the right from my Slack tech_in_the_news channel.) Adopting this mind-set allows me to do something that my favorite professors in college and grad school used to do.

Fusing Theory and Practice

I can’t imagine discussing Uber without mentioning the notion of consumer surplus. How can you discuss network effects without citing Amazon or Facebook as powerful contemporary examples? Might as well throw in Kryder’s Law while I’m at it.

Personal Interaction and Effective Communication

I believe in personal interactions—not e-mail. (Yeah, my three-e-mail rule applies in academia as well.) I’ve never arrived late for a single class at ASU and I’m usually 15 minutes early. I make it a point to meet with my student individually each semester to the extent possible. Beyond that, I’m almost always able to stay after class and speak with my students or set up a time to talk outside of my normal office hours.

To quote Steve Hogarth of Marillion, “Technology is wonderful when it isn’t in the way.” As I write in Message Not Received, sometimes the best way to address a problem involves having a conversation in person, not via new tchotchkes.

For more on how I use tech in the classroom, click here for a profile that CourseHero did on my methods.

My book Message Not Received stresses the importance of in-person communication. More than four in five employers describe “the ability to effectively communicate in writing” as very important . Having the right answer doesn’t mean much if you can’t write and speak well. No, I’m not an English teacher, but I don’t let bad grammar and poor writing slide. We can all improve our writing and speaking skills—including yours truly. Rather than just criticize, though, I routinely offer constructive feedback and recommend of examples of effective writing.

Being Interesting

It’s not easy to get members of iGen to pay attention for 50-75 minutes. To combat this, I try to be interesting and, dare I say, funny. This includes teaching the rudiments of Python. (I’m no Gary Gulman, but I have my moments.) I pepper my lectures with pop-culture references and quotes from movies, songs, and obscure books. (A stats professor of mine at Carnegie Mellon did the same when I was a sophomore and I appreciated the effort.) Yes, I use PowerPoint, but I assure you that my slides are anything but anodyne.

I find this style effective. The Chronicle of Higher Education does as well.

Professionalism

I have never met an academic who agrees with every university or department decision. I’m certainly no exception. Still, students don’t need to know what takes place in faculty meetings. With a nod to Wayne Jarvis of Arrested Development, I consider myself a professional.  

This is the best professor that I have had at ASU. His class is challenging and involves critical thinking. He is able to teach in a way that allows the material to be fun to learn.

—Former student

Learning Should Never Stop—for Students and Professors

I believe in constant learning. Sure, I know a thing or six, but it’s impossible for someone to know everything about any subject—and that includes technologies, programming languages, industries, companies, software-development methods, etc.

I’m a curios person. Professors can and should learn from other professors and their students. I teach some pretty smart cookies and I can’t think of a reason not to try and pick up a few things. Case in point, I decided in December of 2017 to teach myself some Python after seeing what some of my students were able to do with it on their capstone projects. I’m hardly an expert, but I know more than I did when I began my professor career.

Transparency

I also believe in transparency. I create detailed rubrics for my each of my assignments. No, they aren’t recipes or listicles—e.g., the five things that you need to do to get an A. Rather, they are guideposts.

Critical Thinking

You read it on the Internet. So what? That doesn’t make it true. The era of Big Data means that the ability to question claims, sources, “facts”, and assertions has never been more important—a trend that shows no signs of abating.

To this end, I routinely stress critical thinking in my courses. I often ask questions of my students that necessitate thought and even more questions.

Praise

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Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.

—Folk wisdom (origin unknown)

Grading and Timely Feedback

I also believe in timely feedback. Many of my students are surprised at how quickly I grade their papers and exams. It’s not uncommon for my grades to start trickling in later the same day. I can’t imagine taking more than a few days to grade my students’ work.

Respond Well to Feedback

I like to think that I’m not set in my ways. No, I don’t read my Rate My Professor page, but I do listen to feedback from peers and my department chair about how I can improve. Ditto for students whom I respect.

On the basis of some feedback, for instance, I made some significant changes to my capstone courses after my first semester. Brass tacks: I honestly hope that each day I improve in my craft.

Consistency Yet Fairness

Generally speaking, I am consistent. I have to be. Still, I strive to listen to my students and to be fair. I understand that life happens. If a legitimate crisis warrants giving a student an extension, I’m happy to provide one.

Humility

As John Templeton famously said, “It is nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

I couldn’t agree more. Sure, I’ve accomplished a few things in my career and I’m able to express myself in a confident way. At the same time, though, I strive to act in a humble manner.

Helping Colleagues

I know what it’s like to be new to a university and to academia in general. The experience can be a little overwhelming, even if your background aligns nicely with the requirements of a college professor. (This was certainly the case with me.)

Because of this, I’m happy to help newly hired professors should they ask. Assistance may come in the form of specific recommendations, class-related tips, or general pedagogical approaches.

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Click to embiggen.

Phil should be the role model for expected behavior from staff at W. P. Carey. He is very respectful to students. He engages his students and communicates well. He has been my favorite and most exemplary professor throughout my undergraduate curriculum.

—Former student

Reaching Out to Others

I take the same tack with teaching as I do in my books: I liberally interview others who know more about a particular subject than I. Put differently, with sufficient preparation, I can deliver an effective lecture about just about any technology- or data-related topic. Still, because I am more of a fox than a hedgehog, plenty of others can bring a more profound viewpoint to certain subjects. I’m not afraid to acknowledge this.

Case in point: In my CIS440 class, I interviewed expert John Sonmez for a virtual guest lecture about automated testing frameworks and my students benefited from his perspective and experience.

Beyond asking for guest lecturers from experts on individual topics, I frequently talk to other professors about different pedagogical approaches. I enjoy discussing different ways to reach students. My friend Terri Griffith is a particularly valuable muse in this regard.

Sense of Humor

I take what I do seriously but not myself. In other words, I can laugh at my own expense and my students pick up on this pretty quickly. See the images on the right for some good-natured in-class exercises. Some classes have even created Jeopardy! categories for some of my mannerisms and favorite sayings. It’s all in good fun.

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