10 Lessons Learned (So Far) Teaching at NYU

This week came to a close my eleventh semester teaching at NYU. As I signed off NYU Zoom for the last time until late January, I took a few moments to reflect upon my time as a professor and assumed it could be helpful to share (in no particular order) these 10 thoughts…

  1. I can’t cover everything. Every class has a number of topics that could be deconstructed into their own full semester of lessons. I used to be hard on myself for not touching on something in the 2.5 hours together but have since learned that’s okay.

  2. We don’t need a textbook. In my first semester, I required the textbook that had been previously used. I stopped referring to it halfway through that semester and have since moved to recommend books that have had a profound impact on my career (which in total cost about the same as the textbook). I also give the students five or six (NYT, HBR, Stratechery, etc.) articles every week that tie to the lesson. You shouldn’t (and, quite honestly, can’t) teach digital or e-commerce marketing from a textbook.

  3. Real-world examples beat any textbook definition or explanation. I make it a priority to use examples from companies, as well as my own experience, to tell stories. These narratives help the students better understand the concepts through their applications rather than their definitions – it’s one of the reasons their midterm and final are focused on applying the lessons and not “tell me what this is or means.” Storytelling is also one of the most important aspects of my job as a professor.

  4. Class notes are helpful. I used to show up to class, have a few bullet points in hand based on the topic in the syllabus, and just talk. (This didn’t help that feeling I referenced in #1.) A friend that teaches at Stanford told me how he produces detailed class notes that are shared with students, who can comment on them. I borrowed the idea and it’s been fantastic having a script to work off of.

  5. Visual presentations matter — especially online. I used to draw on the whiteboard a lot. My art was never good (I never denied that to the students) but it helped add visualizations to my lessons. When we transitioned to Zoom, I didn’t want to be a talking head so I crafted presentations with images, videos, and text for each session. These have been another great add — my goal for next semester is to revise the template and add even more visual examples.

  6. Speaking of Zoom…I can’t pressure students to participate (outside of holding a tiny portion of their grade against them), but it helps so much when they do. There are definitely times when I’ll come downstairs after an online class and my wife will ask me how it went. I usually respond, “it felt like I just hosted a two-plus hour talk radio show.” The visual presentation helps, but being a constant, effective communicator is essential.

  7. With that… most of my classes take place in the evening, which means after a full work day. I’m often exhausted, but never let that show. These students pay good money to get an education from one of the best schools in the country. I am always aware to turn it on, put on a good show, and leave the students feeling good about the in-class experience every single week.

  8. Get great guest speakers. I’ve been fortunate to have had over 30 amazing guest speakers from companies such as Amazon, Apple, Disney, Facebook, Google, and Netflix, among others. While this is an opportunity for the students to learn from some great minds, it’s also an opportunity for me to learn as well. In fact, sometimes it’s important for me to bring in someone who has expertise in an area where I may not have deep enough knowledge. I then use those learnings the next time I teach on the topic.

  9. Topics need to evolve. Teaching digital marketing and e-commerce marketing is not set and forget it. You have to constantly be aware of changes across the industries (e.g. social commerce, ATT, membership experiences, etc.) and evolve. Having taught the same classes so many times, I have a keen sense of recognizing when I see or read something that applies to one of the classes. I’ll screenshot it, copy a link, etc. and make sure it’s included the next go-round.

  10. Teaching has made me a better person and professional. I don’t take for granted the fact that I continue to teach within the Master’s program at one of the best schools. I never set out to be a teacher — my wife was always the teacher — but I learn from the students, and guest speakers, and even by having to teach topics that I’m forced to get a better understanding of. Not to mention, leadership and effective communication in commanding the class. It’s been a blast.

This post was originally published on December 16, 2022 on LinkedIn.

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