We’ll see how things go

My approach to teaching has so far been very reminiscent of Sarah Deel’s. I knew last semester that I would be teaching my current class and I started to think about how I would approach it. My initial thought was that it would be fairly lecture-heavy, because that was really all I had known, with a few exceptions here and there. But it was those exceptions that were some of the most engaging and exciting classes I took in undergrad. They were generally discussion-based classes, with readings assigned that were discussed during our face-to-face sessions. This seemed like a pretty reasonable approach, but my selection of literature (for casting design) was quite limited and certainly didn’t make for good reading. Knowing that there was baseline material I wanted the students to know, I started out with lectures, figuring I’d make things up as I went along. I knew that I didn’t want to be locked in to the exact styles I had experienced, so on the first day I asked my students to describe their learning styles and what they’re looking to get from my class. This helped tremendously in guiding my initial approach.

I am extremely thankful to be taking this class (Contemporary Pedagogy) in the same semester as my first teaching position, because it’s caused me to rethink many assumptions I had made about the practice of teaching and it has allowed me to incorporate, as best I can, a variety of techniques in the classroom to help students to be more engaged with the class at large. I’ve been able to develop my style in parallel with learning other ones, enabling me to start out with a reasonably effective approach rather than to build bad habits that must later be broken.

The first section of my class is lecture-heavy, to establish that fundamental knowledge base, much like the building a house metaphor used in our meetings. After finishing the lectures, I’ve moved on to a more discussion-heavy approach that is (maybe?) similar to the Socratic method (though not deliberately), where I’ll give a design challenge to the students and we’ll talk through their approach. Very soon we’ll be able to transition to the software phase of the class, which will in turn spawn more discussions, about design both of the castings themselves and of how to create and interpret the simulations and their results.

As far as personal connections/barriers, I think I’m fairly friendly with my students, since I was their TA at the foundry either last semester or last year. If there’s a building and environment at Tech that fosters camaraderie, it’s the foundry. It’s an inherently cooperative environment, because every has to rely on people besides themselves to get major things accomplished. I’m very lucky to have that foundation of camaraderie and friendship with my students. They will often see me in the MSE lounge and ask questions about my class, another class they’re taking, or just hang out. Now because of this, I do need to be careful to maintain a level of professionalism and avoid playing favorites and grade people fairly (note: fairly, not necessarily equally, especially since the students have widely varying levels of intuition for this type of design).

We’ll see how things go.

5 thoughts on “We’ll see how things go”

  1. What a great strategy! I will start using it for sure. I think asking your students since day 1 about their expectations and their learning styles (even if they haven’t think about it) will help a lot setting the learning environment mood.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Erin,

    I first read the post showing your class’ design project. How cool it was to see the simulation being tested by actually creating the piece. You brought it to life for me! And that is what it sounds like you have done for your students by changing your approach to include discussions–and by having them work on real projects like that! I am curious what response you received from students after you changed to not be entirely lecture-drive.

  3. Great post! I really liked that you asked your students to describe their learning styles and what there were looking to get from my class. I really think the hands on learning project you described is a fantastic approach. The design challenge especially seems like a great idea for students to become engaged.

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