Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan
(1966 - 1970)
Teaching Computer Science as Graduate Assistant at MSU
My Experience Teaching at M.S.U.
I decided to pursue a math doctorate, but Western Michigan
University where I was working as assistant director of the
Computer Center in the Mathematics Department did not
offer the PhD degree, so I enrolled in Michigan State
University at East Lansing to earn my Mathematics
doctorate. I was awarded a graduate assistantship in the
University's acedemic Computer Science department in the
Engineering School to help teach the beginning Computer
Science class. My assistantship duties were first helping
Professor Jim Burnett teach a basic computer science class.
There were so many students, that he taught one recorded
lecture that was replayed on video at various classrooms.
I wrote multiple choice exams for the class that I would help
administer at the classrooms. I taught the video class once,
but my biggest job was manning a help desk to help tutor
students having difficulty with the assigned exercises that I
often created myself. I promoted my position that we should
not show how to solve the problem, but only assist in finding
the solution. It would have been much simpler to show the
solution, but I was convinced that would be a less effective
teaching approach. Jim appreciated my help, and we
became friends. He drove me in his tiny red Corvette to a
few photography shows in Detroit.
I was next assigned to teach alone a special technical
computer programming class for engineers. I created
technical exercises typical of engineering problems. My
brother is a Licensed Surveyor, and he helped me design a
problem in calculating results of realistic field surveying.
MSU had a much bigger computer than we had at Western,
but the students' programming exercises were done
similarly. I was often found at all hours helping students
in the Computer Center solve their programming exercises.
Late one evening, the night shift employees brought to my
attention that many of my students were cheating. They
were apparently getting copies of another student's
successful solution card deck. The cheating was obvious
because the printed programming was identical. Since
students invent their own names for the many programming
variables, this never happens. I asked for the offending
students' card decks and outputs. The workers left notes
to those students to meet their instructor. They asked if
they should treat cheaters in other instructors' classes the
same way, and I agreed. But those other teachers were
annoyed at me because of the extra work it required of us
to meet and resolve the stealing issue; they would have
preferred not knowing about the cheating problem.
In my second year at MSU, I was having doubts about
pursuing that PhD. I found that I was not enjoying my math
classes, but the Computer Science classes I was also taking
were fun. I was enjoying teaching Computer Science classes.
And I was realizing that the abstract math I was learning
was relatively useless compared to the extremely useful
programming skills I was learning. I decided to drop out of
the math program and earn another Master of Science
degree in Computer Science and teach that at the college
level instead of mathematics. I saw that there is a lot of
applied math in Computer Science, and that having graduate
degrees in both made sense to me, even though starting over
would mean not getting that degree until after four years at