Course norms

Zoom norms #

  • I hope you’ll participate in the class sessions over Zoom.
  • The more of us who can turn video cameras on, the better for our feelings of connection and engagement in the course material. I encourage cameras on whenever possible.
  • But I won’t penalize you for having your camera off, which I totally understand might be necessary for privacy, safety, or technology reasons. If you need to have your camera off, please upload a profile photo to your Tufts Zoom account. It will really help your instructors and classmates if there’s at least a virtual “you” to talk to!
  • To ask a question or make a comment, please use one of these options:
    Unmute your microphone.
    Use the “Raise Hand” button.
    Literally raise your hand in front of your camera.
    Post your question or comment to chat.
  • We’ll use Zoom chat settings that enable you to either post a message publicly to everyone, or privately to an instructor. I’ll use my best judgment about how to bring chat messages into the full group discussion. While I won’t re-post any private messages verbatim, I may do something like, “A great question has just been raised in chat. Someone has just asked us how we make such delicious cookies!” That way, I can get your good question out to the full group, but you can keep your privacy if you’d like.
  • Don’t record or screenshot the class videos. They’re private to just the class. (The rest of the course videos and notes are licensed under a Creative Commons BY-SA license, so feel free to share them as widely as you like.)

What should we call each other? #

Teachers #

For most teachers in college, the conventional answer is “Professor [LAST NAME]” or “Doctor [LAST NAME].” If the teacher’s name were Albus Dumbledore, you would call them “Doctor Dumbledore,” “Professor Dumbledore,” or just “Professor” for short. In an email, you might write “Dr. Dumbledore.”

Brandon: For me in particular, we have a bit of an awkward situation to deal with. Tufts has given me the title “Lecturer,” not “Professor,” and I’d feel like a bit of a fraud asking you to call me by a higher rank than I am, so “Professor” is out. Also, I don’t have a doctorate degree (a Ph.D.), so “Doctor” is out as well. This leaves us with a few options.

  • Mr. Stafford
  • Brandon

The good news is that you get to pick. As I have repeatedly told my 7-year-old daughter, I don’t care what words you use; I do care about the tone of your voice. If you were to call me, “PROFESSOR STAFFORD!” in the same tone that my daughter uses for, “I WILL NEVER NEVER TAKE A DEEP BREATH AGAIN!”, I would be irritated with you, even though you chose respectful words. On the other hand, people have been calling me “Brandon” every day for the last 4 decades, so it feels fine to me.

I use the he/him/his pronoun series.

Students #

My practice is to refer to students by their first names. If you’d prefer me to address you differently, please let me know. In addition to working to learn, and frequently use, all of your names, I’ll also work to learn your preferred pronouns, if you’ve posted them to SIS. If I get it wrong, I’m very open to your correction.

Does this really matter? #

The way we address each other affects our relationships and the extent to which we feel recognized as members of a community. It’s important to us, to the kind of learning environment we want to establish, and to your individual learning, that we all feel known and seen.

On our side, as an instructor, the truth is that if you call us by the wrong title, it’s okay, and I’ll probably pretend not to be irritated with you even if I feel irritated inside. This is called presenting a professional persona, and it’s one of the skills that you need to learn to be a good engineer. On the other hand, I want you, as students, to be called what you’d like to be called.

Your engineering persona #

One of the major skills of an engineer is working collaboratively in teams. Over time, you should cultivate a persona that you adopt when you are engaged in engineering.

Great engineers are particularly good at giving engineering criticism that makes you feel enlightened, rather than beaten down. Here are some suggestions to help you get started.

Criticize the design, not the person. When you feel criticized, check whether the target might be the design rather than you. You might adopt Jon Postel’s Robustness Principle, from section 1.2.2 of the IETF’s RFC1122, “Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send.”

A few examples:

  • ❤ “I’m worried this part won’t be strong enough.” ❤
  • ⚠ “You’re out of your mind! This will never work!” ⚠

Be specific in your criticism. Try to anticipate failures and describe failure modes.

  • ❤ “I’m worried the wood will slide under the tape, and then the upper deck will collapse.” ❤
  • ⚠ “This design is bad. So bad. It just is.” ⚠