Faculty Experiences - Terence Tao

Terence Tao - photoTERENCE TAO


Interview Topics

What matters most to you in your teaching?

How are you using technology as a tool to achieve your teaching goals?

How have your students responded to your use of technology?

What new goals do you have for using technology in teaching?


Anonymous Participation
Bonus points
Immediate feedback
Student participatio


Class web site
Interactive exercises
Virtual Office Hours (VOH)

Helping Students Manage Their Time Efficiently

I teach mostly upper division math courses, so I assume that most of the students are responsible adults. I really don't like force feeding them the materials, so I expect them to go at the pace that is comfortable for them.

For instance, I always try to put the lecture notes on the course web site. This gives them a chance to manage their time more effectively. I try not to use the web notes to duplicate what I do in lecture. Lectures for me are used to convey the very big picture and not to get bogged down in the little details. Thus, the lecture notes are used to get more in depth or to review the concepts. I try to cover the materials through the web notes on a higher (more in depth) level. I try to have the lecture notes available before the class meeting because I don't want the students to just write down every word I say--you can't take notes and listen effectively at the same time.

I use the class web site in other basic ways such as to have students contact me and discuss things. I use the Virtual Office Hours (VOH) a lot. For me it's extremely helpful. Through the web site, generally students are able to ask more questions--follow-up to the lectures or specific problems, etc. One of things I like most about the virtual office hours is the ability to post anonymously. I think that is a good thing. It reassures students that they can ask questions that may or may not pertain to other students. In my current Honors math class I have a system where I assign bonus points to anyone who can find errors in the lecture notes. They can contact me through the virtual office hours and point out the error on page 5, for example. Then they get a bonus point. The maximum number of points is two percent of their grade. It can make a small difference in their grading, but more importantly it's a way to get students to participate.

The third way I use the class web site is that I write little java Applets to display some mathematical object graphically. The students can then play around with it. If they want to test a current problem set, they can use a multiple choice type format and get feedback. It's another way for students to test their knowledge and so forth. The students generally appreciate this.

Most of my students like the printed lecture notes they can download from the class web site. They like the virtual office hours, especially for those students who seem busy or want individualized responses to their specific questions. The students like these multiple choice type quizzes. It allows them to know what area they are weakest in, for example.

Although I don't often teach the same course twice, I think the time I invested in putting together these classes will pay off because I can easily reuse the stored materials. The second and third times will be incredibly easy to teach.

In the future, I see technology helping with being able to provide supplemental materials. You just can't substitute old-fashion chalk board stuff though. Technology gives us, however, more ways to access the same materials. I really feel that students, especially upper division students, should already know what style of learning and studying is best for them. I don't like conveying to students that this is the best learning style and this is how you are going to learn. Some people can't always come to class--they may have to work, for example--so I don't feel like punishing them. I like to feel that my class adds learning value, but the truth is that there are some students who just show up for the exam and do quite well. They learn in different ways.

Oral Interview, April 30, 2003