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2020-07-23 It’s hard to teach simple’ subjects

Inspired by Tales from documentation: Write for your clueless users

As a graduate student I taught courses in intro to linguistics and beginning FORTRAN programming.

In both classes I came to realize that my words often assumed prior knowledge that the students didn’t have. For example, after teaching one quarter of FORTRAN, it finally dawned on me that the students had no idea what a program was! This was the late 70s and no one had computers or cellphones and programmable calculators were still rare. This was the days of punch cards that you submitted to a window and waited for a big printout from a line printer.

The next quarter I started out by explaining what (I thought) a program was and what it did. That quarter went much better.

And people are not used to listening to language the way linguists sometimes do. I remember the oohs and ahhs I got when I pointed out that to”, two/too” were pronounced completely differently.

IMNSHO teaching grad students is easy because you can assume they understand you. It’s much harder to teach introductory courses.

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