Aléas numériques

Linux, infosec and whatever crosses my mind.

» How I changed the way I teach for this year

The scholar year 2023-2024 is my second year as an adjunct professor at Lyon 1 Institute of Technology, in parallel to my day-to-day job. But even if the content of my courses is still the same (Programming 101 and Security 101), I made a few changes to the way I share and teach stuff.

New support

Slides are boring. When I was a student, I did not like them. You mostly sit on a chair and watch hundreds of them pass in front of your eyes. The worst ones are full of text that is read by the lecturer at the same time. However, slides are the de facto_ way of teaching and communicating stuff in front of an audience, both professionally and in a school context.

So for the first year, that’s what I did. Some of those had more than 150 slides, and even if I tried to keep them tidy and readable, I admit it probably wasn’t very pleasant to consume. Moreover, I did them using LaTeX, so they were not super-duper beautiful.

So to improve that, I decided this year that instead of slides, I’d do books that I call “cookbooks,” in reference to the various programming cookbooks that you can find online. Having PDF books is great for two things:

  • As a writer, you can write a lot more stuff than just a few bullet points on a slide and better format sentences and examples.
  • As a reader, you have more information in the same place, and you do not have to press the arrows constantly to go through or look for things. I feel like it is more pleasant to read.

Let’s see how it goes for the rest of the year, but for now, it seems to be working well, and students like it.

New methodology

Also, now I send to the students the whole “cookbook” (PDF lesson) before the first lesson, so they can read it whenever they want. During the class, we quickly go through the topics of the day; I answer questions if there are any, and then they work on exercises or on their assessments.

By doing this, students can work on their own and come with the concepts already in mind. So when we talk about it in class, explanations seem to be better understood, and questions arise more naturally and are usually more pertinent.

From what I found online, this way of working may be called “flipped classroom,” but as I did absolutely no research on the topic, I do not call the methodology I use like that.

New tools

As stated earlier, when I built my slides during my first year of teaching, I decided to use LaTeX, mainly because I wanted to learn the tool but also because I liked the “academic” format it generated. Also, LaTeX perfectly supports math expressions, which can be handy when teaching crypto. But LaTeX is an old tool, and in the end, it can be hard to work with in some circumstances.

When I decided to switch from slides to cookbooks, I learned about Asciidoc, and to be honest, I fell in love with the tool. Basically, it’s LaTeX but easier. In 15 minutes, I had everything I wanted for my PDFs, from images to code snippets to admonitions, all managed natively. Coupled with Asciidoctor, it just works$^{tm}$.

I should also mention that the documentation is really, really nice and handy. Give it a try, and I’m sure you’ll want to try the tool:

What’s great about Asciidoc is that it’s easy to convert .adoc files to .html. So in addition to the lesson in PDF format, I also publish a static website with the lesson that is even better to look at. Using JavaScript, it can also be interactive (display answers when clicking on a button, etc.).

So this was the few changes I did for this new scholar year. Any recommendation or idea you want to share? Feel free to send me an email about this article by clicking here!