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Home Videos on Teaching DePaul Faculty Oral HistoriesEric Schwabe
DePaul Faculty Oral Histories: Eric Schwabe

Browse the videos below to hear Eric Schwabe, Associate Professor in the School of Computing (CDM), discuss some of his biggest teaching challenges and reflect on what keeps him connected to DePaul.


My Biggest Teaching Challenge: Teaching as a New Professor

Featured Faculty Member: Eric Schwabe of the School of Computing (CDM).
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: Todd Diemer

From the Transcript

So, like many people I got to my first teaching job with very little experience, which is a little strange. In most jobs you're prepared for the job by doing that job, and teaching at (least at universities) is unusual that way.

So the first thing I had to do was figure out that I wasn't talking to people who were trying to get a Ph.D. in an area and make sure that I wasn't assuming a lot about the background of the students and, particularly for undergraduates, had a really different background than I had. And so that was probably the first challenge I had to face was realizing that the audience I was talking to was not mere copies of me, which I think is something everybody has to figure out at some point when they're teaching.




My Biggest Teaching Challenge: Not Having All the Answers

Featured Faculty Member: Eric Schwabe of the School of Computing (CDM).
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: Todd Diemer

From the Transcript

Sometimes things just get fouled up or a student asks a question that you don't know the answer to and then you just can't be afraid to say, “I don't know the answer. I'll go find out,” and then come back at the beginning of class next week with the answer. And I've found that students don't mind that.

And in the classes that I teach, a programming class or a database class, there's room for some amount of experimentation. And I don't really like to say to students, if they ask, “What would happen if we did this?” I prefer not to say, “Well, go try it and then come back and tell me what it does.” I try to be flexible about, if a student says, “Well, we have this database, what would happen if we tried to do this on the tables or modify the data in this way or try this operation?” I try to be open to just doing that in class. “Well, I don't know what it's going to do.” And you can never know every combination of what's going to happen when you try something so you just try it in class and you see what happens. And maybe I'm willing to venture a guess so the students can see that it's okay to hypothesize and then find out . . . make your best guess from what you know and then maybe you'll be right, maybe you'll be wrong but then you do the experiment to find out which way it goes. And then we all get to learn something. So they get to see me occasionally wrong about things, which is fine, but willing to go and find the information, say, “Okay, I was wrong about this, but here's what it does,” now we've found something out and hopefully that makes them more curious about figuring things out for themselves as well.




My Biggest Teaching Challenge: Teaching to the Range

Featured Faculty Member: Eric Schwabe of the School of Computing (CDM).
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: Todd Diemer

From the Transcript

Students don't always like admitting that they have a question, so what I'll often do is after finishing some chunk of the material I'll say, “Okay, does everybody understand it?” and they'll all say, “Yes,” or say nothing. And so then I will put a problem up on the board and say, “Okay, now we're all going to work out this problem.”

And either individually . . . sometimes individually and then in groups, or sometimes I'll just divide the students up into groups to work on it and then give them 5 or 10 or 15 minutes to work out a problem based on the things we've just seen. That way if they didn't know what was going on, they'll one, realize it or two, have to admit it, not to me, at least to themselves, but then working together in groups the students can help each other figure things out. Then we come back and talk about the solution; it gives me a chance to go over the material again, see where the difficulties were and those students who weren't quite following it get to see it again and have the things they might not have gotten filled in in a way where they didn't have to feel like they were waving their hand and saying, “Wait, I didn't understand.” So it's a way to kind of . . . and then hopefully the students were ahead and got it the first time, they get a little practice with the concept so maybe even an opportunity to make their understanding a little better by having to explain it to somebody else, which is the real test of if you really know something.




What Connects Me to DePaul: Why DePaul?

Featured Faculty Member: Eric Schwabe of the School of Computing (CDM).
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: Todd Diemer

From the Transcript

And so as I was looking around at other jobs, what I asked each of the chairmen or deans that I talked to was, “Give me an example of somebody they thought was doing very well there.”

And at most of the places I went to they picked somebody who was sort of well known in their department; in most cases it was somebody I had heard of, and often it was somebody who had just brought in the biggest research grant or had just done the most notable research that had been publicized in their field. And at DePaul, when I asked the dean (who was Helmut Epp at the time in the School of CTI) who . . . somebody he thought was doing really well, he cited somebody in the department who had been doing a particularly good job in teaching. And at that point I realized that this place was somewhat different than the other places that I had been interviewing at and that was really when I got the idea that that would be a nice sort of mindset at a place to sort of see teaching as on par with research, as something that was equally important, although really here I think it's the first priority. And that was when I decided that this was a place I'd like to pursue and I'd like to be at.




What Connects Me to DePaul: Teaching in New Fields

Featured Faculty Member: Eric Schwabe of the School of Computing (CDM).
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: Todd Diemer

From the Transcript

The things I've been teaching in the last couple of years are things that I didn't even know when I first came to DePaul.

And some of them the technologies were not evolved to the point we were teaching them; some were just fields that I hadn't looked into. And there's a real sense of people being flexible and sort of moving into areas that are up and coming, learning new things, training themselves in new areas to teach in those areas. When I first came to DePaul I had only taught really sort of discrete mathematics sorts of courses, algorithms types of course, and then very soon I moved into programming courses because that's where the teaching need was. And then over time I spent more time doing sort of Internet based course and the last couple of years I've been focusing on database courses. The same things happened with some of my colleagues who are teaching more courses in game development now than they used to and sort of teaching in fields that we hadn't really been trained in and that we hadn't really maybe expected five years ago to be spending our time with. And that's the way the computing field is, right, new technologies are coming along, new things are becoming important and if you're going to teach students what they need to know you have to sort of move into new fields, learn them yourself and integrate them enough with the other things you know that you can teach them in a reasonable way.




What Connects Me to DePaul: Improving Student Lives

Featured Faculty Member: Eric Schwabe of the School of Computing (CDM).
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: Todd Diemer

From the Transcript

I think what I like here is really like the things we do here sort of make a difference to the students.

And depending on what kind of university you're at, I mean some students are sort of doing well in life, they come from a really good situation, they go to a good school and they get a good job and it sort of all flows for these students. And I think the students at DePaul, when they finish at DePaul, their DePaul education really sort of improves what they can do in life. And they've worked very hard, they have often worked a job to help pay for school, they really appreciate the education they get and the time they spend at DePaul makes their life better. And they often . . . and get a better job, they've made close contacts with people, they've done some networking and I think that what we're doing is we're teaching information to students but it's also something that sort of contributes to their quality of life down the road.




My Biggest Teaching Challenge: The Unexpected

Featured Faculty Member: Eric Schwabe of the School of Computing (CDM).
Music: “July” by Marcel Pequel, courtesy of Free Music Archive. Creative Commons Licensed.
Videographer/Editor: Heather Banas
Interviewer: Todd Diemer

From the Transcript

Good. So things can always catch you by surprise and I try not to be unprepared too often but things can happen that are unpredictable.

For instance, at one point I worked out a set of examples for a database class (not the one you were taking, but the later one for CS students) where I constructed a certain database on my laptop in preparation for the class, and I practiced it there, worked out all the examples I was going to do. Then went into class and went to create the same examples on the server that we use for class, connected to my account there and it didn't work because the permissions on the server had been set differently than the database on my local laptop. I was then told by the database administrator, “Well, you really should practice everything before class,” which I thought I was doing. But what they had done was the security settings had to be a little tighter on the server that was being used generally by instructors and all the students than I could afford to have them on my own laptop that nobody else uses. So in this case it basically . . . well, I looked a little silly at first and tried this, well what do you do, you say, “Well gosh, this must be different on the server than it is on my laptop. I'll go find out what happened.” It gave me a chance to then say something about the different sorts of levels of permission on a database that gets set by an administrator. While this wasn't the database administration class, I was at least able to explain to the students that this was a situation where I was able to have certain kinds of access to a database, to certain operations, to certain parts of the data but not to other operations or other parts of the data, which is an important concept for them to see. So in that case I was able to turn it into something at least somewhat relevant to what we were talking about in the class.