David Black-Schaffer

David Black-Schaffer: Flip the Classroom (#99)

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Our Guest Today: David Black-Schaffer

David Schaffer is a world-class researcher in Computer Architecture. He was introduced to me by my audio producer Germán who has been studying with David at Uppsala University in Sweden for the past three years.

David is a Winchester, Massachusetts native, who received his Ph.D. from Stanford and then moved to Sweden with his family. He is currently a senior researcher in the Uppsala Architecture Research Team working among a group of curious minds from around the world.

Recently, David started the Scalable Learning Project, a platform to “flip the classroom”, making teaching and learning interactive. Students not only love it, they also perform much better. As a professor in Computer Science, David believes that these interactive video lectures could also help subjects such as economics, art and history.

“When I go into my classroom, I know exactly what questions students have. I’ve chosen the most interesting ones right up on the board, along with the exact point in the videos when they asked the questions.”

David sees having the lectures online lets him be “in the classroom” with the students. And that is fun and rewarding for a teacher.

Another technical area we delved into was David’s research Energy efficient computation for future challenges”. How does energy efficiency impact your life? Well, if you have a smartphone and ever felt frustrated with its limited battery life, you’ll want to know why this research project is crucial. Turns out, energy efficiency is an even bigger problem to tackle in the fields such as medicine and computer science. 

Besides teaching, research, David is a father to two young children who are being raised in Sweden. David tells me about parenthood and a life as an American family living abroad.  What are the important reasons David decided to move his family to Europe? How has it impacted his work and relationship with his children?

David Black-Schaffer – Show Notes

  • [06:30] Fei and David sharing thoughts about life as a whole, and work-life balance.
  • [08:00] Boston is where your roots are, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
  • [10:00] You parents are both doctors at Mass General Hospital (MGH). What was it like growing up in a household of doctors?
  • [17:30] Why did you decided to move to Sweden, and what was that decision like?
  • [20:00] David compares working in the US vs. Sweden
  • [22:00] How is the success as a researcher being measured today? What are the role of bibliometrics?
  • [25:00] What is Scalable-Learning and how did that project started? How did that change your way of teaching?
  • [31:00] The Scalable-Learning platform sounds radically different, but very practical from a teaching standpoint. However, it is also more work for the teachers, how do you deal with that?
  • [37:00] What are some of the solutions to approach teachers that are more traditional or not properly motivated to change their teaching style?
  • [42:00] What is your area of research? What are you currently investigating?
  • [48:00] How can people learn more about your research and group?[50:00] David and Fei discussing about the challenges behind making knowledge available to different communities and people, and common points in research and advertising.

Favorite Quotes

  • [07:00] ‘A mentor of mine is fond of saying that life is a package deal. This concept that you can have a work-life balance. […] Everything is a package, so it’s no more one or the other, it’s deciding what is important to you and figuring out how to do it, because you do it once. It is life, and it all comes together…’
  • [11:00] ‘A career is not something that you get to a point and stay there, but it is something that you are constantly evolving as you go through it. I found that to be a very comforting thought for what is the future, you are not stuck somewhere, you can keep pushing yourself in new directions.
  • [13:00] It’s OK to be yourself and to have things that are important to you, but you also need to make sure that you are taking care of the people around you in those relationships as well. And I feel that’s both an important and an inspiring message to give to kids.
  • [17:00] There are parents who are really committed to their careers, and they will be better parents if they are able to be successful in their career as well. Getting a balance is important, but it is also interesting to see how society judges those different balances.
  • [26:30] ‘I fundamentally believe that teaching is the most important thing we do at the university. […] I love teaching, I really enjoy being in the classroom, I enjoy helping people and seeing them succeed.’
  • [27:30] ‘When I go into my classroom, I know exactly what questions students had on the material the night before, I’ve chosen the most interesting ones right up on the board, along with the exact point in the videos when they asked the questions.’
  • [29:00] ‘For me this has lead to an enormously more satisfying teaching experience, because I spend my time in the classroom, walking around and talking to the students while they are working on problems, while they are solving things, while they are trying to get stuff done. […] This has been a lot of fun.’


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