Educational Theories,  Teaching & Learning

Servant Teaching: Listening and Learning

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I was so grateful to have the opportunity to teach a face-to-face section of the ITM-2100 Database Management course this semester. When I was assigned to this class earlier this year, I thought that the pandemic would be gone by then. However, this was not the case. Thanks to Dr. John Delano, who designed the course to be hybrid and flexible so I could adjust the course for this semester quickly. But the challenge continued … 

This semester I had 24 students in the class. Students were from a variety of majors—accounting, economics, finance, IT management, etc. During the first couple of weeks, the class focused on the SQL query which is fundamental for data processing and management. I received many questions from the students and noticed two major problems: “Am I on the right track?” and “Why should I need to do this (or that)?” I was glad that the students came to me and asked questions because it allowed me to know their needs. However, I felt that I couldn’t address two major problems well enough for students by passively responding to them. How could I serve them better? 

Based on the conversations with students, I was aware that my students needed a kind of activity on SQL queries where they could freely explore and grow at their own pace without worrying about losing points. I was also aware that students from different majors had different expectations, and some needed to be challenged. The challenge was to design a new activity with three goals. First, the activity should be realistic to demonstrate the business needs of using SQL queries. Second, students were not required to complete the activity, but they should be motivated to do it without increasing their workload significantly. Third, students could have constructive feedback instantly instead of waiting for my responses. At first, I hesitated because I was afraid to add more work for both the students and myself. I kept it in my prayers. One day when I was exploring the Canvas community forum to get some ideas, God reminded me of a training course on data visualization that I took during the summer. At the end of each unit of that course, there was a self-evaluation activity which helped me assess my learning well. I could use it as a prototype for my class. God is listening, and He showed me a way to accomplish it. 

The solution was to make a series of weekly challenges using Canvas Quizzes for extra credit starting from week four. I called it “Seek Your Challenge” (sounds like SQL challenge). Each week, I posted a challenging quiz which consisted of three groups of questions from the beginner’s level to the advanced level. All questions were based on real business needs to retrieve requested data from a sample database, for example, to find all delayed orders last month. Students needed to answer an essay question by coding a SQL query. Then, they executed their queries to retrieve the information to answer a follow-up multiple-choice question. The essay questions were not graded, but the follow-up questions had different points based on difficulty levels. There might be multiple ways to correctly answer the follow-up questions, but the most practical solutions were provided as a general comment for the questions. After students submitted a quiz, they could compare their answers to the solutions and perform a self-evaluation.  

In week ten, about one-third of the students took the challenges every week. I talked to several students and heard encouraging feedback. One student said that he enjoyed solving the problems and felt more confident than before. Another said she was not afraid of writing SQL code anymore, although she was not in the IT management major. One student who did not take the challenges asked me if he could do it when he had time rather than taking them weekly. Although the challenges were designed to be done weekly, I was still glad to know that students were willing to do it. The next step for me is to revise this activity and share it with other course instructors. 

Listening to students and being aware of their needs helped me connect with my students and serve them proactively. When I got the idea to add a new activity into the course, I hesitated, but God showed me a way to accomplish it. Seeking to serve is challenging, but God will show us the way. 

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