Technology helps balance life

Our life can be visualized as a polygon where each side is facing different audience and their different expectations. To broadly classify there are at-least two sides of everyone’s life: the professional life and the personal life. Again, we as a person we have several goals. I think balancing the way we deal with our different sides of our life is a crucial strategy for being happy and focused in life, which can help us in attaining the goals. Technology can be efficiently used in the purpose to improvise our strategies and do multi-tasking.

As mentioned in the article “The Myth of the disconnected life”, that technology have helped us make connection and communication easier that was had never been imagined before. These technologies like smartphones and google may distract you for some purpose but still it has the capability of making your life smoother and making it more balanced.

For example, on a particular day, I had to finish my conference paper. So a part of my mind is working for the paper in US and part of it is thinking that I need to call my mom in India, because she is waiting for my call for the entire day. And making call to mom can take way a part of my time and I can also get distracted with a long conversation. Now, with the free international messaging system I can just write to her, that I am fine and being busy with work. This does not take away too much time, do not distracts me from the work, help me to be focused in what I am doing and ultimately helping me to move towards my goal. On the other hand my mom’s expectation of receiving a word from me also gets fulfilled. Therefore, this helps me in balancing my personal life along with my professional life. Again, similarly if a manager in a company is attending a social gathering for a friend’s marriage, he/she can enjoy the ceremony at the same time if his/her office desperately needs him/her for some help, he/she can quickly contact through phone/skype to offer them the help. The work in the office will not stop, since the manger is enjoying a marriage ceremony. Earlier, when these technologies were not available, the officers would have to wait for the manager to return and help precede the work. But this waste of time does not occur in today’s world. Thus, in both cases technology through distracts you little from the world you are paying attention to, still it helps balances your life.
What is your opinion for this idea?

Freshman Engineering Courses align with the critical pedagogical approach

EngE 1215 and 1216 are introductory engineering courses, having innovatively designed curriculum structure that aims to introduce students to the engineering profession. This curriculum structure aligns with almost all the principles of teaching and learning emphasized by Freire. Here I will discuss about these courses and how it engages students to learn critically. Hope the conversations about this approach will help disseminate the idea that can be incorporated in various other engineering courses.

Along with the various learning objectives of both these courses, specifically, instructors in 1215 actively engages students to a systematic engineering problem solving process, while instructors (including me) in 1216 help students to critically navigate through an engineering design process over a semester long project. For both the problem solving process and the engineering design process, students work in a project based learning (PBL) environment solving real-life engineering problems, to which they can connect and that can spark their interest (for example: Sustainable Energy Sources, Water Quality and Quantity effect on Watersheds, Drones, Prosthesis Design etc.). Students here also have the authority to select and define their problem/project under a certain scope. According to research, PBL is an inductive pedagogical approach that helps students to actively, critically and co-operatively engage in the engineering tasks assisting them in developing their engineering technical competency as well as professional skills. Instructors in these courses are trained (through departmental trainings) to act as facilitators (not being authoritarian): scaffolding students through the process, guiding them with probing questions and assisting students in developing metacognitive skills.

Moreover, there are also several other research based components in the curriculum that align with the idea of being “Dialogic” in Critical Pedagogy. Hands-on or critical thinking in-class activities are integrated throughout the curriculum providing instructors to interact with students and helping them in receiving formative feedback, along with the summative feedback after the midterm and final exams. Researchers suggest, these feedback helps in modifying student understands of certain concepts and clears their misunderstanding. Next, team-work is an integral part of this curriculum that forces students to work in an ambience similar to a professional engineering project team. Here students learn to work and learn co-operatively while solving a challenging engineering problem. This assists a student in developing communication skills and team-work skills. Again, throughout these courses students are encouraged to support their arguments with research work going on in the engineering field, exposing them to know and learn about the globally connected engineering workspace. Finally, ethics is tied into the curriculum to encourage students to work by resolving ethical dilemmas and to help them develop ethical reasoning skills that directs them to design/produce ethically viable engineering solutions for the society and specific environment (an idea presented by Freire).

On the other hand, teaching experience in this department assists me and supports me to develop skills for designing a project based classroom and for effectively facilitating students. GTA training programs and weekly meeting are conducted in this department to help instructors and GTAs prepare for the class and reflect on our teaching. We, as instructors are always provided with readings/resources that explain research-based content (for example: metacognition, PBL, product archaeology, Belbin team roles, etc.), helping us to implement them in the classroom. Moreover, strategies to handle issues in classroom (for example: professionalism, student’s less involvement with activities, problem with students who are distracted, etc.) are also discussed for maintaining proper classroom climate. Overall, this department through these courses enriches freshman students with an effective learning experience as well as enhances a teacher’s experience in a wide variety of research based practices of the 21st century.

Do I practice inclusive pedagogy?

The questions that sparked in my mind after hearing this topic “Inclusive pedagogy”, was: “Can I say, I practice inclusive pedagogy?”. Yes, I obey and tell my students to obey the Virginia Tech Principles of Community, but is that it? What more I can do to create an ambience in my class that it can be termed inclusive pedagogy? I do make groups in my class in a certain way (discussed later*), will you term that as an inclusive pedagogy? To be clear with the topic, I went thorough few of the readings for this week. The article, “From safe spaces to brave spaces”, though discussed in a context unfamiliar to me, still I think the authors’ elaboration with the case study clearly reflects the meaning of a safe space and how it can changed to a brave space. The discussion on the ground rules seemed much effective, helping me understand how I can better enforce the spirit of inclusiveness in my classroom. The ground rules stated were as follows: Agree to disagree, Don’t take things personally, Challenge by choice, Respect, No attack.

Implementing the ground rules in my classroom: In my introductory engineering classroom students are divided into groups to work on their project. The ground rules can be implemented and can be very useful in this context. After reading the article, I think, I should not only state Virginia Tech Principles of Community but on the same day conduct a good discussion on the ground rules, where I can elaborate on each of these rules and students can reflect from their experience. This discussion is as important as ethics discussion in class, since it will always help students to work and communicate in a diverse population, at the same time help the classroom to be more inclusive in nature. Students usually make team contracts where they write rules that they can follow when there is any type of conflict or scheduling clashes or rules for meetings, etc. Here students can also include these five ground rules, which should assist them in their communication with their varied team members.

*An attempt I make on creating a safe space: Students in my class usually fill out a survey with information on their technical background, which help me to make their project groups. Each group will have students having diverse technical competency. Another factor is that, in these groups of five to six members, I usually try to keep at-least two international students and keep gender balance, so that no one feels a loner in a team. I try not to make a group of one girl and 5 boys or vice versa. Sometimes, after announcing the teams in the class, when I see I have kept a girl/boy in a team where the other gender is dominant (being not able to interpret the gender from one’s name), I ask that person personally taking him/her to a side, if they feel un/comfortable working in that group. I do not want my action to jeopardize someone’s comfortability throughout a semester, and affect their creativity and work. For many students this has not been an issue but I found two people, who felt happy after changing their groups.

Do you think my way of making groups is an act of inclusive pedagogy? Do you think the idea I presented in the para 2 will work?

Teaching skills: Personalization, being energetic and enthusiastic and clear communication

I started teaching from when I was very young and now I am a PhD student. I taught in informal settings and laboratory settings in India to freshman engineering classroom settings in VT. This is my fifth semester teaching in VT. My students’ ages ranged from 4 years to junior year students (pretty amazing). Every time I teach, I enjoy teaching, improving my teaching skills, discovering how each students differ in learning, overcoming challenges while teaching and facilitating learning of my students. I belief there is more to discover about myself as a teacher and more to explore in this field. Being in engineering education and learning about different learning theories, styles and strategies are also assisting me to grow as a teacher.

Among the strengths I might have in teaching, some I realized are effective, which I might not leave behind but improve on. As far I can recollect now, few of these strengths are: personalization, being energetic and enthusiastic and clear communication.

Personalization: This is easy in an informal setting, where I am interacting with my student face to face. However, it is not that easy in a classroom or big laboratory setting. I easily make rapport (knowing their name and interacting with them as much as possible helps to develop this) with my students and try to develop an ambience, where they can feel free in interrupt me and ask questions and proof me wrong. I pause between my lectures to check if they understood what I tried to teach. Then students engage in hand-on problems, where I answer questions and help them according to each one’s need. The best part I discovered here is that a student can be stuck at a point where you may not have anticipated and that’s where I think teachers can help them to come out of their misconception. I also talk to my students about situation where they can feel anxiety (like before exams or learning a software tool) and how I have overcome it. This helps my students to feel confident that they are not alone in the boat and they can talk about different strategies to overcome it.

Being energetic and enthusiastic: I learned about this skill from the University level GTA training in VT. In a classroom, if you are energetic and enthusiastic as a teacher and show students the purpose and context of a topic, students automatically will not be bored but will be energetic to learn (at-least most of them). If we as a teacher, show tiredness while teaching and show casualness in the small hand-on activities, we really portray to the students that they do not matter to us or these hand-on exercises are just to engage them in the class but may not improve their learning. So whatever may happen in our lives in the day of our teaching, if possible, we should not bring it to the classroom.

Clear Communication: By this I mean, both clear communication of expectations between teacher and students, and also clear and loud communication skill for teaching. The first one is important to help student realize the help that they might get from the class, while the second helps students to clearly understand the activities and learning happening in the class.

I do not want to make my blog lengthier. So! What do you think about these strengths in teaching? What are some of your strengths?

Students made their own mid-term questions

I taught two sections of the freshman engineering course in Spring 2015, where students learn in a project based environment about the engineering design process. I had 6 project teams in each of the sections. It was before their mid-term exam, when I was brainstorming with my colleagues to find out an effective way of reviewing the concepts covered in class so far. One of them suggested: “students can make their own mid-term questions”. I really liked the idea and implemented it in my class.

In my first section, I discussed some sample mid-term questions, which I had to discuss. Then I divided the concepts taught in the class into six groups and assigned each group of concepts to each group of students. They were asked to review the concepts (assigned to them) as a group and come up with probable 5-6 mid-term questions. After each group was prepared with their questions, they had the responsibility to ask the class their questions. The class tried the answers and if they failed, the group asking the question had to explain the answer to the class. I facilitated the activity, helped each group to clear their misconception, if they had one, related to the concept assigned to them. While each group was asking questions, I observed the way the students almost taught the other students. Students generally prepared good questions and I emphasized the links between the concepts and intervened when necessary. I and my students loved this class, which we called “the study session”. Experiencing its effectiveness, I did this with my other section as well as again before the final exams. However, from the next time, I emphasized to come up with ”conceptual” questions, which did not allow students to come up with just simple, straight forward questions but questions around the interpretation/application of the concept.

This idea shows that autonomy given to students helped them to take responsibility of their own learning. It also helped me to assess how well they understood the concept and how I taught the class. Reviewing the concepts covered in class also helped students to understand the inter-connection between them. This class also helped me to portray to the students that grades will depend on how they were comfortable with their concepts. Few students also realized the topics in which they lacked understanding and needed to focus more before exams. The test can be thought as not just a time to earn grades but a checkpoint to look back and analyze concepts being learned in class.
What do you think about this idea? Should I continue implementing it in my classes in this semester?

Mindful Learning and its need for 21st century engineers

After participating in the class discussion and reading the article on Mindful learning by Ellen Langer, it is clear that Mindful learning is actively engaging in the learning process by paying attention at the present and noticing new perspectives, and being sensitive to contexts. Here I will discuss how mindful learning helps engineers to participate in their professional work.

Engineers of the 21st century, along with learning to design engineering solutions, should also be able to understand how to translate their design to real-life products meeting the different criteria and constraints. These requirements include the business ( or economic including marketing, budget, cost-effectiveness), social impact (impact on people and environment), policies and ethical considerations of the product, which are the boundary conditions for the possible range of solutions. This shows that engineering solutions differ by various contexts and this variation in much more when the context is international.

This implies that engineers not only needs to learn facts but should engage to apply knowledge in real-life contexts. Whereas, in contrast, many traditional engineering classrooms, do not engage students in their learning process and thus the students passively learn facts and understand steps that they follow to solve problems. Then students can repeat similar steps to solve similar book problems, which often lack the real-life context. When these engineers are given a real-world open ended problem in their professional, they often find it challenging as the typical steps they learned might not answer the question in this context. They might have to think mindfully and creatively to understand how to solve the problem by integrating several knowledge that they have learned.

This indicates that modern engineering classrooms, should engaged students so that they mindfully learn the basics and then apply this learning to solve real-life problems with various level of difficulty. This can be done by engaging students to answer questions that need critical thinking, to solve real-world problems or to analyze real-life case studies. These help students to practice facing professional challenges early on. The habit of mindful learning, where they use their brain to process information in various contexts, and find creative solutions will ultimately help them in to succeed in their career.

What is your comment on this perspective?

Connected Learning may be implemented using Project-Based Learning approach

Connected learning can be regarded as a framework of an education system/approach that follow several principles helping students in learning, which includes: interest powered, production centered, peer supported, shared purpose, academic oriented, openly networked. It empowers students with the responsibility to learn from various network resources, curiously engage them to think critically in the area of their interest and to become lifelong learners. The link http://connectedlearning.tv/what-is-connected-learning and http://clalliance.org/why-connected-learning/ provides a nice background about connected learning, its need in the modern world and examples of how it has been implemented in several places.

I read about connected learning, it seemed to me that all the principles of connected learning can be implemented using project based learning (PBL) approach. PBL is implemented in engineering classrooms to help students solve real-world ill-structured problems/projects by actively and co-operatively engaging students in the tasks, which helps students to succeed. The PBL classroom implementing connected learning can design the projects according to the interests of the students (by letting students chose their project) along with achieving certain learning outcomes of the course. These projects can be aimed towards producing some kind of solution that can contribute to real-world problems (for example a software application designed of grandparents to do certain task). The principles of interest powered and production centered can be thus implemented using PBL as well as it can aim to attain academic learning. Again, in PBL environment, each member in a group shares a common interest of learning the course material, thus they have shared purpose, which help them to learn from each other and ultimately finish the project. Moreover, in PBL setting, peers from different groups can provide feedback to other groups, which help in strengthening the project output. Lastly, the unlimited networked resources assist students in succeeding through many phases of the project. For example, during project definition, students can understand the context of the project better by gathering information about the specific problem or during alternate solution generation phase, they can explore the pros and cons of different solutions of various communities engaged with similar problem to come up with their innovative solutions. Therefore, PBL is a good way to implement connected learning in a classroom setting.

“Why am I taking this Class”

One thing that must change in higher education is the system of “only in-depth lecturing on a certain topic” in a class. I have often taken class, where a teacher teaches each topic of the class. Teacher teaches clearly, everything is understandable but they forget to indicate why they are teaching it, how that is relevant to the real world problems or how it can contribute to my body of knowledge. It also remains unexplained at times how that class is connected or useful for the other classes in my department or outside department. Thus it is really important for each student to get these answers to fully understand the topic.
The teachers can use the technology in class to answer these questions. At the minimum teachers can use related videos or animations or pictures to make students understand the concept as well as why it is important. Teachers can design simple real world problems and guide them through the process to solve it. Then they can show how that problem can get bigger and complex in real life. Teachers can use the idea of concept map to show the connections between the content taught in that class and how it is related to the other classes in their field and also other fields.
These are some of my thoughts but I encourage more thought and solutions on this problem.

A Case

I found a case from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website, where Dr. Jun Fu, former Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Neuro-Oncology, MDACC was accused of research misconduct in a research supported by National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). He admitted that he knowingly and purposefully falsified a figure in a publication. He falsified the survival times of mice to show that NVP-HSP990 prolonged survival rates in glioblastoma tumor bearing mice when experimental data were incomplete and unusable. An inquiry conducted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC), has recommended the senior author of the publication to take necessary actions with the Journal to rectify the result in the paper.