Home > Community, Musings > The Best Teacher I Ever Had: An Ode to Stephan Regoczei

The Best Teacher I Ever Had: An Ode to Stephan Regoczei

December 3rd, 2008

The most interesting courses at school were my non Computer Science courses (the comp sci courses were pretty easy since the instructors depended heavily on code samples and textbooks), and Stephen Regoczei’s course on Digital Multimedia tops my list for being the most interesting and inspirational course.

I usually picked my summer course while tree planting since most of the course syllabuses were online, but Regoczei’s course (aside from a vague 200 word blurb that the course digital multimedia related topics) had little information.

I emailed Regoczei requesting a syllabus and received a reply along the lines of:

Due to socioeconomic reasons, I do not respond to my email.

His course was ironically about communicating, the internet, and digital media, but yet he wouldn’t respond to email?! This was weird! I signed up for his course, I was intrigued.

On the first day of class, I sat near the front – but not in the front row (I was trying really-really hard not to be too geeky). Like most students in the class – I was clueless to who this Regoczei character was. Ten minutes after the class was scheduled to start we still didn’t have a professor, and students started leaving. Minutes later, a man who looked like he could be our professor walked through the door, but he then sat down among the students took off his jacket, took off his shoes, and the class waited a couple more minutes. The man who could have been our professor, started striking conversations with those around him, then stood up and walked to the front of the class, and introduced himself in a strong foreign accent as Stephan Regoczei – he was our professor.

With a series of five chalkboards available to him, and a full class, Regoczei would start jotting his notes on the middle black board, he’d then move left (not right as one might expect) to the next board, then back to the middle board. Then to the bottom left corner of the middle board, to the top right corner, filling in any empty space with his notes. He never touched the left or right most blackboards, but instead created a jumbled nest of notes that were impossible to follow if you hadn’t been taking notes. Regoczei often hedged around answering assignment / test related questions, instead he assured us that we would either “get it” or “not get it”, but he would say that he felt we were smart enough to “get it”. Over the first few weeks students would occasionally storm out of the class as they were obviously frustrated with his unconventional approach to teaching. When students did storm out he’d giggle and make funny remarks like “I guess they won’t ‘get it’, they must have been in the wrong class”.

The marking structure for this class was as unconventional as his teaching style – which had many students griping (I think some were on the verge of starting a petition to try and have him fired). The assignments weren’t hard, but they were extremely open ended which made you think. One assignment was along the lines of “present four topics in the Media that you found interesting”. Submissions in the form of a four page essay consistently scored lower than a single sheet of paper filled with bullet points and hand drawn color pictures. At the end of the course most of the students that “got it” had abandoned their pens and computers for paint, scissors, and pencil crayons. On my final exam I used a pair of scissors to turn my exam book into a pop-out, and had answered every question with a different colored pencil crayon.

In retrospect Regoczei really forced his students to think outside the box in a conventional setting – if we didn’t think outside the box we received a poor mark. For me, he demonstrated that if you understand the constraints of your environment, then you can play within these rules and thrive as you change the rules. Today I’d label Regoczei as a heretic.

Regoczei’s course also promoted a great sense of community – the first 45 minutes of his class were dedicated to a media show-and-tell where students could show an exciting product, or bring up an article for discussion. In a couple discussions we debated whether the oil slicks (highways) covering our country were worse than the oil spilling into the oceans and the emissions in our air, or how antiques featured on the antique road show can maintain value whereas mass produced replicas were cheapening our world, and we had ongoing conversations on quality vs quantity. In addition to the discussions, his extremely open ended assignments forced the class to come together and compare their marks and assignment strategies in an effort to figure out his bazaar marking scheme.

Today I think Regoczei’s main points were (but I’m not sure, and every student walked away with different ideas):

  • You need to think outside the box in order to be successful
  • We should question everything
  • People that can get beyond conventional thinking will never need to look for a job, because the jobs will always find them
  • There is a world of difference between “Kiddie” computing (Microsoft based PCs) and “Grown up” computing (unix, linux, macs, anything else)

This course along, with my discussion based English seminars were the most exciting, inspirational, and though provoking courses at Trent University. These were the courses that really taught me how to learn, inspired me, and left me hungry to continue learning, reading, writing, thinking, and growing.

This quote from Arden’s book reminded me of Regoczei’s approach to teaching:

Good marks will not secure you an interesting life.
Your imagination will. – Paul Arden, Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite

What inspirational teachers have you had in the past?

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Community, Musings Tags:
  1. May 28th, 2009 at 04:19 | #1

    Thanks for using my photo! Works well with this post.

  2. Leo Jweda
    August 21st, 2012 at 09:14 | #2

    Bullshit! His course was a waste of money and if ever Multimedia and Design is offered by another professor I will demand to be able to audit it for free.

    I don’t know if I will ever benefit from his course but as I see it now, it’s a complete waste of time and it’s definitely not education.

    If ever I find anything I learned in his class useful i will send him an apology and buy him a 6-pack. Until then my promise is to buy all the professors in the COIS department and the dean of undergrad studies a case of bear each if ever they get him fired.

  3. mike
    April 1st, 2013 at 05:19 | #3

    I’ve found in life there are two types of people. Conventional and unconventional. There is no right or wrong, so whether you’re on one side of the fence or the other, it doesn’t really matter. The world is a far cry from what it used to be, and now that I look back on my courses with Stephan, I realize that his unconventional teaching style, and his interest in getting us to think about things from very different perspectives really plays true to the world we find ourselves in.

    I’m currently interviewing for new positions, and one company that I’m in talks with, had quite a few negative comments on glassdoor.com

    One in particular, claimed that the corporate hiring manager showed up in a tshirt, as opposed to a shirt and tie. This man then vented his frustration online.

    I’m not very young, nor am I very old. But from what I remember when I graduated in terms of the job market, things are very different today. Businesses and corporations (barring a select few) are looking for creative talent. They expect that people are more than just drones or monkeys. Back in the day, you might have gotten by by being book smart, but today, if you can’t take on responsibilities outside of your actual role (such as hosting a stand-up, or other meeting), then you’re not fulfilling your potential.

    Stephan’s course was entertaining. But when I heard people argue that they didn’t get their 92% or their 100% even though they completed all their assignments, I think about the guy who complained because he dressed up in a suit and tie, and the recruiting manager didn’t.

    You pick the courses you take, and you praise the ones you liked. I admit, Stephan’s courses are probably not for everyone. But if I was the hiring manager (or other senior staff) for a business, and we had a very unique office culture, I wouldn’t hire a person who walks in dressed in a suit. Companies are fighting hard to distinguish themselves from everyone else, and you are free to read about courses before you take them. I for one really loved Stephan’s courses, which is why I am here looking him up. It’s nice to see that other’s also enjoy him. We all graduated from Trent, and if you think that Trent is blind (I’m speaking figuratively, I’m not implying anyone said this) to have hired him, or to keep him on the faculty, then you are the one who is blind. Trent keeps him on for a reason. I’ve seen bad professors not last a semester, but others are long standing faculty.

    I praise Stephan for his unorthodox teaching methods. But it is that kind of thinking that is really in demand these days. In a world full or turmoil and with the market a mish-mash of startups trying to make a name, I would rather take one of Stephan’s course, than one that is just a textbook read-through.

    For those that argue Stephan’s courses are/were a waste of time, well, I hope you find a happiness in your cubicle with your red stapler and CRT monitor.

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