Center of Excellence for Teaching & Learning

CETL Podcast - Episode 5 - Nathan Barker

Tony Pellegrini: Good morning! Good morning, friends! Tony Pellegrini here with another session of our teaching and learning at SUU. We've invited Nathan Barker—Dr. Nathan Barker from the CSIS department—to come and visit with us today about his experiences here and we'd like to invite him to take a moment to give us a little background information. Introduce yourself Nate, your setting and situation here at SUU.

Nathan Barker: You bet Tony! So like you said, I'm Nathan Barker and I teach in the Computer Science and Information Systems department. My main duties are teaching students programming, so I'm really involved in the beginner classes where students just start learning. We teach them the java language—we have three classes on that. But I'm also in a few of the upper divisions, like our mobile app classes, which one year we do that on Android and the next year we do that on iOS or Apple devices. I taught in the forensics, I taught some masters courses, and I taught the capstone, so you know, we teach a lot at SUU.

TP: We do! We do! We love that; we love it here! Talk to me about for a moment or two, Nathan, about what makes SUU special—a special place to be able to teach, to be able to learn—from your perspective and your experiences.

NB: You bet. So, I grew up here in Cedar just a few blocks away from SUU, and so I was on campus a lot in the summers, or for outreach that they did at the high schools or even lower, and so I really love SUU and I think that this university is terrific. As an undergrad, I came here for my undergrad degree in computer science and I double majored in computer science and German. And during that time I really got to know all my professors; I had them for multiple classes so I knew what they wanted, I knew what they expected when I went into more of the upper division classes because I had them as a lower division student.

When I went on to grad school, most students in my grad school said, “Wow! Class sizes are so small in grad school.” But for me it was just the opposite: so we had way smaller classes here as an undergraduate than I did when I went to graduate school—in fact it was about 10 or 20 students more than I was used to. So I really think that this SUU get-to-know-your-professor, small-class-sizes thing really works for me and for my personality and a lot of the students I teach.

TP: Fantastic! That's part of the beauty. I’m grateful we're still striving to keep those numbers low.

Because I know you so well, Nathan, I wanted to talk to you, or ask you a question, about stepping outside your comfort zone: what advice would you give to our listeners about maybe studying some subjects outside of their comfort zone? Do you think that there might be some programmers, some Java programmers, who might benefit from taking a drama class? Or should business students study psychology, or read scientific journals? What are your thoughts about maybe taking a step outside of your comfort zone?

NB: Sure. So at SUU right now we are putting together (or at least talking about with the Provost) ways that students can add “badges,” is what he's calling them currently, or certificates to their degree. So say an art student could add a digital or a programming badge to their degree to kind of help market themselves better, but also to learn more about different things in that field, or a—. So in our computer science degree we're thinking about adding a technical writing badge and encouraging students to get into that because when we send our students out for employment, the employers tell us that our students are terrific in their programming skills, but they wish they could write a little better. So this idea of broadening your horizons from just your own small focus; it's catching on, and it's catching on in computer science specifically.

So my PhD was more in a biology field than a computer science field. The biologists were, when I was getting my PhD, were under all kinds of new experiences with all kinds of new data—they could put cameras on living cells; they could make them glow and record how they glowed. But all this data was not what they were trained in; that is what computer scientists are trained in: how to analyze data. And so my PhD was kind of the merger of those two fields, and we're seeing that a lot with computer science in particular where other degrees, if those students have a little bit of computer science background, they can kind of “talk” programmer but yet still do their own interest. So I think a broad learning and getting outside your comfort zone is a great skill to have and very important.

TP: We are really preparing our students well, I think, for jobs that we don't even know exist through exactly what you are you're sharing, Nathan, thank you so much.

Just one last question; I promise to let you go. There's a growing body of research that shows that systematically reflecting on our work experiences boosts learning significantly. Nathan, do you have time to reflect as a teacher as a learner here at SUU?

NB: Well I think we could do better at that, for sure, but every year the university does make us write these annual reports. And I don't know how well everyone does at that, but me in particular I go over what worked in my classes, I write up a summary of what the students are thinking, and what I might do in the future. And then at the start of every semester I tell the students during our first week, “This is what we're trying to do different this semester because last semester your students—fellow students—said that they would like the course improved in this specific way.” Whether that be more time on a specific subject, or different assignment groups, more online, more in-class, whatever the case may be. But I don't really get a ton of time but at least once a year I do sit down and write that report.

TP: I think that's it just so important to be able to reflect on what we do, and I'm grateful that the university provides us that opportunity and that you provide that opportunity for your learners in your classes as well.

Nathan, thank you so very much! I'm so proud of you, tickled to be able to work with you, and I'm grateful for the time that you take and to share with our listeners what you do to engage with teaching and learning here at SUU.

Thank you again so much, Nathan.

NB: You bet, Tony!

TP: You have a good day.

NB: Okay, you too.

TP: Bye, bye now.

NB: Bye.