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Practice (Activities) Makes Perfect: An Interview with Imtiaz Ahmad

Take Imtiaz Ahmad. He’s a bit of a superstar in the Udemy instructor world. He was recently recognized at Udemy LIVE, our annual instructor conference, for his use of practice activities to engage students. The award crowns his considerable achievements: nine courses (including “The Complete Oracle SQL Certification Course” and “Java Puzzles to Eliminate Code Fear”), nearly 18,000 reviews, and almost 90,000 students.

It’s no coincidence this software-consultant-cum-instructor gets those kinds of numbers. Practice activities, like quizzes, coding exercises, and practice tests, may not be glamorous, but they help enrich student learning and give instructors crucial feedback.

We sat down with Imtiaz after he accepted his award at Udemy LIVE and asked him how practice activities work for him and his students. (This post has been edited for length and clarity; you can listen to the entire interview here.)

Udemy: Tell us a little more about practice activities you create for your courses.

Imtiaz Ahmad: Mostly, I try to implement what I have learned in the industry. I’ve been developing software for over 10 years and have worked on Wall Street and for financial companies. So, I try to utilize some of that knowledge and put it in a digestible form in the course so it’s not too challenging but not super-basic either. I also make practice activities long enough to cover a comprehensive problem. I try to keep them practical, engaging, and as real-world as possible. Students appreciate that.

Udemy: How do students know if they’ve done well on your assignments?

Imtiaz: A lot of times I can tell by the reviews. I’ve gotten reviews and messages from students saying, “I was able to land a job in Amazon” or they were able to land internships after taking my courses. It’s amazing. The more I see learning lead to achievements like a new job, the more I realize this stuff is working. It validates that the assignments are practical enough, and they’re actually helping students.

I like to tell students, “Don’t take this course as a popcorn course.” Don’t just sit back and watch like it’s a movie. You need to be engaged and typing along with me. Then, when I ask you to pause the video, actually do it and complete the assignment before watching me explain the solution.

Udemy: So, you don’t actually have to grade or look at their work.

Imtiaz: Yeah, it’s mostly through feedback. A lot of students contribute in the Q&A section, and they’re my top priority if they need help with something. I really like to help students who help the community as well.

Udemy: How do you determine where in your course to include an exercise?

Imtiaz: I usually start my courses by going over theory and explaining what the topic is, why they’re should learn it, and how it will help them. Then I give students a practical assignment, which varies based on the course content. Some courses require a lot more theory, but I try to get the students engaging with and practicing as soon as possible.

Udemy: Do you think your practice activities factor into the ratings and reviews you receive?

Imtiaz: Absolutely. Before I started teaching full-time on Udemy, I watched other instructors on YouTube and read the student comments. A lot of them liked the content but would ask where they could practice and how they could continue learning at the next level. Those are the key areas I focus on, and I think it improves retention.

Udemy: Has a student ever told you an exercise was too hard?

Imtiaz: If I hear that too often, I’ll go back and edit some of the previous lectures. Maybe I didn’t explain something as well as I should have. Or I may add another lecture to compensate, and then, hopefully, the assignment is more digestible by the time they get there.

Udemy: What’s the process like creating these activities?

Imtiaz: I enjoy it. It is actually a very creative process to come up with a good assignment. It takes time to come up with that.

Udemy: Any advice for other instructors who want to create practice activities?

Imtiaz: The activities can’t be easy. They can’t be super-hard either. But they need to be significant. Students should want to share these assignments with each other and post their completion certificates online. That’s definitely what I try to prioritize.