What Teaching Is All About

This story is about a defining moment in my new career as a tenure-track Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Bothell.

It starts in September, three months ago. Jeff McKenna was coming into town to take a two-day workshop on the Cynefin framework. I had not signed up, so I took the bus down to the Seattle Central Library and talked my way into the first day of the workshop. It was interesting.

I had no idea, however, how much the Cynefin framework would completely infiltrate my thinking and conversations. Since that day, I have spoken with dozens of people about this framework: colleagues in industry, fellow faculty and staff members, family, friends, and even a couple of students. It has illuminated conversations, clarified problems, and become a central part of my research plans. Not bad for one day of a workshop.

So, when I was designing my new course on Software Testing I knew that I would have to talk on the Cynefin framework at some point. I did not know how it fit in with the topic of software testing, but knew I would talk about it.

Fast-forward 2 1/2 months to December 1. The class is almost done. There are three class sessions left. Icy roads had closed the campus the previous week, so I had several topics, including the Cynefin framework, to fit into one 2-hour “smorgasbord” session

The smorgasbord session seemed to go well enough, though it was hard for me know if the students really understood the power of the Cynefin framework. Such is the problem of the lecture mode, which is why I use it sparingly.

A week later, in the last class session, students were giving lightning talks on their research topics. Just before the last talk, Joe, one of the students, whispered to me, “Professor. May I have 2 minutes?”

“Sure,” I whispered back, wondering what he was going to say. When the last talk finished, Joe went to the front of the class and said something like the following:

We spend a lot of money coming here to get a good education. If you want people to think you’re really smart, use the Cynefin framework.

He then launched into a story about how he used this framework in the small software company he works in to solve a couple of problems that they have been struggling with for a while. At the end of the story, he said that there are now five people at the company who think he’s brilliant.

This is the type of moment I live for. As a Teacher, it doesn’t get better. When a student uses a new distinction to improve their life it gives MEANING to my life.

The timing also was nice. Joe sat down. I thanked the class. And then I handed out the course evaluation forms. (Thanks, Joe!)

On the way back to my office, I bumped into another faculty member and gushed the whole story to her.

“It can’t get better than this,” I thought.

And I was wrong….

Each student in my class has created a portfolio for this class. Joe is using a blog for his class portfolio. That evening, I sent Joe an e-mail asking if he would write a blog entry on what he said in class. He replied that he’d already started doing so.

Then, this morning, a couple of days later, Joe sent me a link to a blog entry and said “Look at the comments!” This wasn’t Joe’s blog. It was the blog of Dave Snowden, the creator of the Cynefin framework. He had found Joe’s blog entry and noted:

“…it was good to come across this blog post on the use of Cynefin in software testing. Firstly its good to know that the model is being [taught?], even better to see a student pick up the essence despite only a couple of minutes teaching.”

Dave Snowden then added that:

“I’ve added the blog to my RSS feed and will look to see how this authors ideas develop.”

My student is becoming famous!

Now THAT is fulfilling.

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About davidsocha

In autumn 2010 after spending 19 years working in a variety of software organizations as a programmer, architect, manager, teacher, ScrumMaster, product designer, change agent, and agile coach, I finally listened to what everyone had been telling me I should be doing and joined the University of Washington Bothell as an Assistant Professor in Computing & Software Systems. My interests are how to create and maintain great teams, particularly those in software development organizations. I am most interested in distinctions that dramatically increase the effectiveness of teams, such as systems thinking, design thinking, biomimicry, and human centered design. I am a pragmatist, a collaborator, and an optimist.
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One Response to What Teaching Is All About

  1. Pingback: Software Testing and Cynefin | Joe W. Larson

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