Tuesday, 17 May 2016

​Teaching others & also learn yourself

13:48 Posted by The Thalesians (@thalesians) No comments

The premise of this article might seem odd. The primary objective of teaching is to teach others and to help them to learn. However, very often the process of teaching itself can also help the teacher to learn. Precisely how, is something I shall elaborate on during the rest of this article!

I recently came back from Budapest (photo above is of St. Stephen's Basilica in Budapest) after teaching with Paul Bilokon at a Thalesians' workshop at on systematic trading and market microstructure. We tried to mix both maths and theory, with some practical examples, including going over how to implement a simple trading model in Python using the PyThalesians library. I enjoyed the whole experience of teaching very much, as did Paul. The workshop was part of the annual Global Derivatives conference, an event which has been part of our annual calendars for several years.

The most important question I wanted to ask the students, was how did they benefit from the course and also to understand both what they liked (and disliked about it). Of course, I would hope there were many more points in the "like" category! Teaching at the workshop did in a way make me want to ask also another less obvious question, this time for myself: what did I learn from the whole experience of teaching?

One of the biggest challenges was in the preparation of the course. Trying to give attendees a crash course in any area which is very broad (eg. systematic trading in this case) is always tricky. The difficulty in preparing the course is not so much in attempting to decide what to put in, but rather what to leave out from areas of my research! In other words, what were the key elements of the subject I wanted students to know? Paul gave me an excellent quotation from Pascal which seemed to capture this point exceptionally well:

If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter

The whole process of distilling down a subject area into its most important parts is in itself a learning process, and helps to crystallise the subject more clearly in your mind. When delivering the material to an audience, their participation is also important: they will very often ask questions you will have never thought of, which you, the teacher can learn from, even if it's a subject you know well. Different audiences will ask different questions.

The interactive element can also extend to doing worked exercises, for example going through small coding examples from scratch. The whole experience of writing code live can benefit student and teacher alike!

Perhaps, most important of all, teaching is fun and very satisfying when you see your students learning something new. That after all is the main point of it. But if you the teacher can also learn along the way, that's even better!

If the idea of a Thalesians workshop on systematic and electronic trading sounds fun, maybe we'll organise another one soon!

Like my writing? Have a look at my book Trading Thalesians - What the ancient world can teach us about trading today is on Palgrave Macmillan. You can order the book on Amazon. Drop me a message if you're interested in me writing something for you or creating a systematic trading strategy for you! Please also come to our regular finance talks in London, New York, Budapest, Prague, Frankfurt, Zurich & San Francisco - join our Meetup.com group for more details here (Thalesians calendar below)

25 May - London - Paul Bilokon - How to run electronic market making business?
09 June - Zurich - Felix Zumstein - Python in quantitative finance
16 June - New York  - Tobias Adrian - Nonlinearity and Flight-to-Safety


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