Distinguished Teacher Award for Associate Professor Gary Marsden
It is a well-known fact in the Department of Computer Science at UCT that Gary Marsden is a superb teacher who is not only enormously popular but also extremely effective at explaining material. His immense enthusiasm for his subject, and for teaching and learning, is obvious in all that he does. He is highly sought after and immensely successful teacher, as his creativity makes his lectures appealing to any audience whether they are students, members of industry, government employees or his peers at international conferences.
Gary believes that it is essential for a lecturer to convey his or her enthusiasm for the subject to the students. Each module should be designed so that students are able to discover their own passion for the subject. All modules should be engaging, enabling and fun. He includes his current research in the teaching materials so that students can be sure that they are being taught the most current thinking within a field, an important feature of a discipline such as computer science where new developments occur at a rapid pace. Students are also encouraged to see how the knowledge they are gaining can be used to solve “real world” problems.
Having taught in all levels in computer science, Gary knows that it is important to design courses which match the needs of the students as they move through their undergraduate degree. In first year computer science course, the goal is to ensure that students think like a computer scientist and he spends a long time teaching the practice of programming. The second year course has a more theoretical basis and is designed to show that computer science is not only about programming but has a strong theoretical underpinning. By third year students are proficient programmers and Gary’s goal is to develop the students’ critical thinking ability. This is an important attribute since many of the students will leave university after attaining their bachelor’s degree to enter the workplace. The goal for postgraduate students is to develop them as people so that they can discover their own particular niche and realise their strengths and weaknesses.
Not only is Gary Marsden a superb teacher, he is the author of a textbook on Mobile Interaction Design. This book, which he co-authored with Matt Jones, is internationally recognised as the most widely read book to be written about their discipline. It is used in teaching postgraduate students around the world and has recently been translated into Chinese. Some of Gary’s presentations to industry and at conferences are available on YouTube; these have been awarded a five-star rating and viewed over 1400 times despite the very technical nature of the presentation. Gary is particularly gifted at getting his message across in such a way that it appeals to his audience. A very interesting example is the poster which he created on behalf of the Science Faculty’s marketing programme for schools in which he explained the workings of a mobile phone in a way that makes the topic instantly appealing to a younger audience while at the same time engaging them to read the content.
As a technology researcher Gary has always used technology in his teaching. In 1995 he was the first lecturer at Middlesex University to put his lecture material on the university intranet to allow access to colleagues and students. He has been experimenting with ways to use mobile phones in education and has a PhD student who is working on a system to allow lecturers to podcast their lectures to their students’ handset. The field of computer science now reaches into almost every academic discipline. Gary believes that to be an effective computer science educator, the lecturer has to understand how other disciplines view computer science and the technologies that are created. He is frequently invited to address students in a diverse range of disciplines such as fine art, film and new media and to address students from the marketing department on e-marketing.
In 2008, Gary Marsden was recognised as an Apple Distinguished Educator in recognition of his use of technology in teaching. It is thus fitting that he is recognised as a Distinguished Teacher at UCT where his teaching has inspired students in both computer science and other departments.