"My real-world experience has a significant impact on how I teach, and the kind of information I highlight in the classroom."
One aspect Miller loves about computer science is that it’s constantly changing. “We talk about lifelong learning as a goal of Luther College, and we definitely walk the walk in the Computer Science Department,” he says. “I love that I’m always having to learn about new ideas to stay current, and keep one step ahead of the students. I also really like to write code. I still experience that little release of endorphins in my brain when I create something new and see it come to life on the computer.”
Miller started grad school while he was working full time. A short time later he transitioned to being a full-time student. “When I was about six months from finishing my Ph.D., I had the opportunity to put my studies on hold to found a company, called Net Perceptions, with my advisor,” he says. “Net Perceptions provided recommendations for books, movies, and CDs for Amazon.com and many other commerce companies at the height of the Internet boom.”
After the company had grown from five to 450 people, he returned to graduate school to pursue his dream of teaching at Luther. “I think my real-world experience has a significant impact on how I teach, and the kind of information I highlight in the classroom,” he says. “I emphasize teamwork and solving real problems. I also push my students how to learn on their own.“
In fact, Miller sometimes requires students to research how to complete a project even when he hasn’t covered the material in class. He believes this independent learning is a critical skill to have in the fast-changing world of computer science.
Miller teaches a course during January Term in Silicon Valley. His students visit several high-tech companies where they meet people in a wide variety of job categories in a successful company. “It’s important for students to hear the personal stories of these people,” he says. “Many of them are wildly successful, but all of them have stories of failure as well. Some fail multiple times before having a huge success. This is really eye opening to many of our students.”
Miller and his wife also led the Malta program last year. “It’s a semester-long, program called Malta and the Mediterranean,” he says. “Part of the program focuses on service learning where the students teach English to recent immigrants to Malta. The other portion allows time for our students to take courses on Maltese history and culture at the University of Malta.”
Miller believes the time in Malta was a life-changing experience for everyone. “It was great living with our 12 students and traveling with them to Morocco, Italy, and Istanbul. The experience of living abroad and learning world history through the eyes of Malta was rejuvenating for all of us.”
Miller’s current research project, Runestone Interactive, creates tools for writing online interactive textbooks. It provides free, open-source textbooks to students of all ages worldwide and currently serves 13,000 people a day.