Throughout my teaching efforts there are three principles that I hold paramount. The first is that I feel it is important to help students transition to a level of problem understanding as opposed to problem solving. Secondly, I believe it is important to utilize real-world problems which exploit student’s prior knowledge in an effort to continuously build up engineering problem understanding knowledge and fix misconceptions. Lastly, I feel that an active learning environment is beneficial to a student’s education and I, therefore, strive to implement it at all times in my courses.
Developing Problem Understanding
Transitioning from the problem-solving domain to a problem understanding domain can be difficult for students because it requires a complete understanding of the model being used and the assumptions made, among other factors. While, this can be a difficult process the benefits are numerous, including being able to approach and solve problems that have not be seen by the student before. Through prior teaching experiences I have found that use of applied problems which utilize prior knowledge are able to assist making this transition easier for students when it came time for the next project which utilized prior knowledge or an exam.
So far, I have had the opportunity to implement this style of problems in weekly homework assignments and a few 2 to 3 week long group projects. After successful completion of these tasks I have found that students were able to better approach other problems that require similar skills, but with a slight variation. However, during this process I found that for first year students it is easy to overestimate their level of prior knowledge. Therefore, I have been learning various approaches to better handle this issue through various engineering education courses I am currently enrolled in.
Utilizing Active Learning
Active learning is an excellent tool for helping promote deeper learning. However, I feel that lectures cannot be omitted because when students do not have the proper prior knowledge or lack the skills necessary to self-teach, lectures are necessary to provide students with new information. Conventional lecturing methods tend to be passive and for this reason in my first-year engineering class I have worked on developing more active lectures. When teaching MATLAB, I have created a set of incomplete notes that I go through with the class where they can fill out the notes with me and add information of their own as we go through the lecture. In addition, I always try to have a couple of example problems throughout the lecture where I give the students time to work together in small groups to solve the problem. Then, we regroup and I call on individual students to tell me what steps I need to take to solve the problem.
Setting the Tone in a Classroom
Through my teaching experiences so far, I have found, in some instances, difficulty in achieving the appropriate tone in a classroom. Whether that be students not respecting me and trying to talk over me or the opposite of where they are too scared to ask me a question. I think the prior is due to my position as a graduate student coupled with my easy-going personality that I try and infuse into my lectures. However, the later likely is due to me trying to mask my personality without even knowing it or wording something in the wrong way without realizing it.
One way that I have tried to improve the tone in classrooms is on the first day letting students know that it is acceptable to ask questions in class and that I am always willing to answer their questions outside of the classroom through email or in person, as long as my calendar does not say I am busy. I am a firm believer in open door policies. At the start of courses, I make sure to inform students where my office is located and how I can be reached outside of the classroom. I believe that by providing this additional form of assistance a stronger relationship between the instructor and the student can form which can in turn improve the learning experience.
Measuring Teaching Effectiveness
The main measure for teaching effectiveness will be the feedback I receive from students and other faculty members who observe my course. Depending on the course format I think that weekly reflection pieces can be useful to help not only measure my teaching effectiveness by identifying how many students are able to make the desired connections, but also help students identify how they are performing in a course or where they need extra help. By having these weekly reflections/mini-exams I will be able to quickly identify and assist students with learning the necessary material and making the necessary connections.
Why Teaching is Important to Me
As an engineer, I believe that it is important to use my knowledge and skills to improve the lives of as large of population as is possible. Thus, based on my knowledge and skills set I feel that through teaching I can help educate the future engineers, and ensure they are prepared to tackle the problems of the future. While, this means I would only directly affect the lives of students in my class I still believe that I would indirectly affect a much larger population of individuals whose lives were improved by the engineers I taught. I could use my knowledge and expertise to focus solely on research. However, I believe that by doing that I am not improving the lives of as many people where, instead, I would be focused on providing new information to a company or a smaller subset of individuals.
My Future Goals
My ultimate goal is to work with other instructors to identify what they find works best for them in the classroom and work together to improve the curriculum for engineering and ensure that the development of the curriculum never becomes stale and always produces engineers that are able to handle challenging problems.
Lastly, one significant topic that I would like to implement in courses is ill-structured problems. However, I would like to implement the problems in a progressive manor. This means that first-year courses would be introduced to the idea of ill-structured problems, but the solution would not require the use of engineering principles aside from some math and physics skills. Then the ill-structured problems would continue to increase in difficulty and decrease in the amount of support directly provided until the final year where students would potentially take a final course that is designed around problem-based learning.