For Brian Fraser, teaching computing science is all about “student engagement”
By Deborah Acheampong
Computing science senior lecturer Brian Fraser is one of three extraordinary educators recognized with the 2022 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award. The award recognizes Fraser’s enthusiastic and innovative teaching, his ability to stimulate students to think creatively and critically, and his demonstrated care for student learning.
For Fraser, teaching computing science is all about student engagement. "I believe that students need to be engaged by the course materials and then engage with them themselves," Fraser says.
“It’s my role as an instructor to build the initial levels of engagement and to provide activities, such as assignments which lead students into working with the content,” he adds. “Then through their hard work, these ideas really become meaningful to them, and through which they learn.”
Fraser’s journey at SFU started as an undergraduate student interested in artificial intelligence (AI). He was fascinated by how humans think and how an AI system might do something similar. This interest led him to pursue a Ph.D. in AI, focusing on Cognition-Inspired Artificial Intelligence.
Before joining SFU as a lecturer, Fraser worked for several years in the industry as a software designer. However, that career took a different direction when he discovered his passion for teaching.
“When I worked in industry, I enjoyed explaining new ideas to colleagues, and it was a natural transition for me to become an instructor,” he says. He finds it worthwhile to help students learn interesting and useful ideas in the classroom.
“It is rewarding to see students apply new ideas in their work and translate their hard work into new skills,” Fraser adds.
Over his years as an instructor at SFU, Fraser has taught different courses in the Software Systems program at SFU’s Surrey campus. They include an introduction to programming, programming in Java, embedded systems, and software engineering. These courses equip students with valuable and real-world skills.
Though it can be challenging to make computing science engaging and connected to social issues, Fraser breaks the glass ceiling through his thoughtfully produced resources and practical approach to teaching.
“I use analogies to explain difficult concepts and as much of a dynamic presentation as possible to keep everyone interested,” he shares.
Fraser’s exemplary teaching skills go beyond his classrooms. “He is an instructor who inspires and facilitates student learning in ways that make a sustained, substantial and positive influence on how students think, engage, and acts in the world,” says colleague and School director Mohamed Hefeeda.
Fraser currently leads four community-focused projects that have been running for several semesters. The projects are for different non-profit organizations in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Haiti and the UK. Students in the software systems program can apply to be part of his classes each semester and contribute to these projects.
Moving forward, Fraser will continue to encourage students’ success by maintaining a fair and equitable environment for students.
“Each student should feel safe in my class to do their best work and be encouraged to participate,” he says. He is compassionate about student concerns and works to provide each student with the best learning environment possible.