As an undergrad I took several psychology classes. While their main purpose was to satisfy general education requirements, I absolutely adored them. I was too in love with math by then to consider changing my major, but there was something fascinating in trying to understand why it is that people do what they do. That urge drove my decisions in other areas of the general education program, most notably leading me to take multiple classes on Eastern religions. But I thought I had left that behind when I chose computer science in graduate school. It was this week that I realized how much the urge to understand people continues to drive me, even in my working life.
Drifting into research in computing education can certainly be considered a manifestation of the urge to understand people, but it was in the classroom on Wednesday that I realized how often I’m driven to analyze people’s behavior and motivations. In my first-quarter Python class this spring I have a small group of men who sit in the middle of the room and periodically chat as I’m trying to talk. The standard approach of asking them to be quiet and calling on them to see if they have a question hasn’t eliminated the noise completely. And the issue really is about noise. I don’t much care if they pay attention to what I’m saying, especially since at least two of them have programming experience and could probably learn the material on their own, but the chit-chat is distracting. So I find myself analyzing various approaches I can use with them, how they would react to it, the impact those approaches would have on other students, etc. Rather than be irritated by it, I’m consumed with finding the right approach to this issue. I’m clearly seeing it as more of a puzzle than an annoyance.
When I realized how enthralled I was by a routine classroom management issue I had to laugh. My curiosity about why things are the way they are has led me to so many rewarding pursuits, including my spiritual life, research in computer science, and teaching. I am grateful that I have a job that gives me so many things about which to be curious.