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?