In Articles

(Virtual) college tours: everyone’s doing them, including our software engineers — as instructors at local institutions. Wanting to share their technical experience and specific expertise, Clarity engineers Bill, Terri, and Chris have been teaching college courses. In a three-part series, we talk about what they are bringing to their students in classrooms and online.

PART 2 — Lessons in agility & impact

Chris Howard’s experience as a teacher began when he was an undergraduate student at UMBC, where he was studying Computer Science as a Meyerhoff Scholar. While at UMBC, Chris worked as a Teaching and Lab Assistant, a Computer Science Help Center Tutor, and an Undergraduate Grader. Designed for minority students, the Meyerhoff Scholars Program aims to increase diversity in leadership in science, engineering, technology, and related fields. Chris found the experience a positive one but grew frustrated that the program lacked a diversity of professors and instructors. He wanted to get involved in teaching so that he could take part in changing that for others wherever they studied. A few years later, as a graduate student at George Washington University, he continued teaching Computer Science Laboratories there.

Teaching college courses for a global campus

Since 2015, Chris has been an instructor at the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). A current UMGC professor connected him with staff in the IT and Computer Science program, and Chris started teaching. “I love the fact that at UMGC, you get a really good mix of adult learners, military personnel, and traditional students,” he said. Chris has taught an impressive array of classes there including “Advanced Programming Languages,” “Building Secure Web Applications,” “Current Trends and Special Projects in Computer Science,” “Design and Analysis of Computer Algorithms,” “Intermediate Programming,” and “Software Engineering Principles and Techniques.”

The classes Chris teaches are online or hybrid — a combination of in-person sessions and e-learning endeavors. Lessons reach students near and far. This semester, Chris is remote teaching “Object and Concurrent Programming.” It is a 300-level undergraduate course. Students tackle object-oriented concepts and design and get an introduction to algorithms. They learn why one object design strategy may be better than another, or why “this code” may perform better than “that code.”

I like that it’s a way to have an impact on people, breaking down programming so that it’s digestible and not the stigma of hard or impossible to learn.”

Every week, using an online learning system, Chris provides a video lecture. Students follow up with assigned reading, online group discussion, and then a set of activities/projects that they each do on their own. The structure works well, and students get a taste of what it is like to do real-world problem solving and project work. “I like that it’s a way to have an impact on people, breaking down programming so that it’s digestible without the stigma that Computer Science is hard or impossible to learn,” Chris said of teaching college courses. “You can see it fundamentally changes their thinking about things.”

Taking an agile approach

According to Chris, UMGC takes a research-based approach to undergraduate studies. The University studies student experiences and outcomes, evaluating what works best, and updating courses accordingly. Chris describes course design and content as agile and iterative. Course content and methods change based on feedback provided with each round of research. He enjoys this adaptive process.

Community college career changers

Chris also teaches courses at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC). For the last couple of years, he has taught database administration classes and a certificate course to train and qualify people for help desk jobs. These classes are rewarding because they allow people to get a foot in the technology door. This sort of technical training is popular with career changers and people drawn to tech in later years. At some point, Chris hopes to introduce and teach an Angular course at PGCC. He believes that learning basic HTML, Typescript, and CSS would be useful to students and translate into professional opportunities. 

Other coursework Chris would love to introduce at the university level — Amazon Cloud fundamentals, since these platforms have quickly become standard.

Chris’ bio

Chris Howard is a Senior Software Engineer and Technical Lead on an Agile software development team. With almost 20 years of experience spanning the software development lifecycle, he expertly leads technical efforts and teams working closely with customers and stakeholders. Chris has devoted his career to supporting technology development in the defense and aerospace industries. He has attended and presented at annual technical conferences. Chris is an active community leader and technology advocate. He is a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers.

Chris Howard is teaching college courses. In this photo, he works on a laptop at Clarity's offices.
Chris Howard, Senior Software Engineer & Technical Lead
photo: Tatyana Goldman

More on UMGC

The University of Maryland Global Campus (formerly UMUC) is a state college that provides online programs. UMGC confers bachelor’s and master’s degrees for working adults. The University offers more than 90 degrees, certificates, and specializations. According to the University’s website, UMGC enrolls more than 50,000 active-duty military servicemembers, reservists, veterans, and their family members. More information at umgc.edu.

About PGCC

Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) has locations in Largo and throughout the DC Metropolitan area. The College offers more than 200 academic and career training programs. More information at www.pgcc.edu.

Coming soon, PART 3: Surveying & using biological databases & tools. Senior Software Engineer, Terri Hobbs, talks about her experience teaching and advising for the Johns Hopkins University Engineering Program for Professionals.

PART 1: How to wrangle data. Vice President of Engineering, Bill Farmer, discusses teaching Data Sources and Manipulation at the UMD iSchool.

Recent Posts
Bill Farmer presents a NiFi dataflow to a group of UMD iSchool students and staff at the Clarity officecolor photo of 'Clarity' printed on the glass door at Clarity's office