On an electronic forum that I frequent, a conversation about the reasons Ph.D. students are frequently required to take a class in research methods but almost never in teaching methods has been taking place.  There are points to be made on both sides of that issue, but even if more computing faculty were required to learn something about teaching before going into academia I believe there are some things that you simply learn from experience.  And I bumped into one of those things today.

In my second-quarter Python class we are discussing GUIs.  One of the things that’s worth mentioning when introducing GUIs is the notion that some widgets serve as a masters and other widgets serve as slaves.  The master-slave relationship is a fundamental concept in computer science, and it’s worthwhile for the students to be introduced to it.  Of course, master and slave are two words that have other meanings outside of computer science.

I think that navigating a classroom discussion about terms that have strong meanings outside of computing is something that you simply have to experience.  When I first taught this class last quarter, the students got incredibly giggly when I mentioned the terms.  I told my obviously kinky students that we weren’t discussing S&M, which only caused more laughter.  Today I talked about GUIs to a class where over 1/3 of the students present were African-Americans, and the students’ reaction to the mention of the terms was very somber.  That’s an obvious outcome, of course, but one that I noticed since it contrasted so much with last quarter.  I can only wonder what the reaction will be the next time I teach the topic.

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