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Live from RE’10: Requirements Training Teachers Dos and Don’ts

A common statement heard around the training industry is: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And often those who do the teaching say this phrase jokingly, so it’s usually in good fun.

As we just finished the 5th annual REET on education and training in requirements engineering, I wanted to reflect on this commonly said phrase. So I don’t actually agree with the statement – both as a statement of how it should be and as a statement of how it is.

I truly believe those who master a topic AND have good teaching skills, are the ones who really teach a topic well and should absolutely do so. Those who can’t execute the skills, and still try to teach it make bad teachers and therefore probably aren’t really teaching – they are just calling it that. For example, if you want to teach someone how to elicit requirements, you need to be good at doing it yourself, and reflect upon those skills as you teach them to others. If you haven’t done real requirements elicitation in 20 years (or ever!) .

Those who are good at the skill but lack the teaching skill, well, let’s not get into that here – let’s just help them just be better teachers because we are fortunate they want to teach the skill they are good at!

I am familiar with this concept in requirements more than anything. When I teach, one of the things I always rely on to help meet the learning objectives  is to tell my own stories (good and bad) about the concept. Now, if I haven’t executed the skill recently, then I won’t have any stories. Stories make it real, make me human to the students, and put the concept in context?

The other thing I’ll add to this is if I’m not actually out periodically executing the skill, then how can I be sure I know how to explain how to do it well.

I think academics walk a very dangerous line here if they stay purely academic – because then they aren’t practicing the requirements skills in real life to improve their own teaching. The bulk of the REET presentations from academics were based on teaching in their own schools, but they are typically working with industry partners on research projects and therefore do have those experiences to rely on.

So anyway, I think a lot of people teaching requirements to the world actually also do execute the skills. Those who don’t should and probably shouldn’t be teachers until they do. So choose your requirements classes wisely!

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