By maguire | Filed in Uncategorized | One comment

Communication is paramount for engineers. Grading reports from my freshmen students has proves to me that young engineers think they don’t have to write well or communicate at all. I know that I was completely against all English and communication classes when I was a young undergrad. I actually went into engineering for the simple fact that I would never have to take another English class again. When I get right down to it though, writing is all I do. From writing this blog (not a typical engineering thing to do) to writing memos and project reports, most of my time during the day is spent on writing. If I am not writing I am trying to explain to someone verbally what it is I am going to do. The actual calculations and analysis I do is not nearly as time consuming as my communicating throughout the day.

This is why I feel engineers should take more (technical) writing and communication courses. While attending a presentation from one of the top Civil Engineers of the day (Leslie Roberts), he said communication is the biggest drawback of hiring newer engineers, not their technical abilities! I only took a single verbal communication class and a single technical writing class. Some engineers get away with even less! This is not enough. I will be the first one to say that my weakest skill is verbal communication. I wish there was some way to get engineers to take more of these classes. But we already take a very large number of credit hours and many of us do not graduate within the four years (I took 4.5 years).

For this reason I will be implementing as much technical communication into my classes as possible. I can implement little things like requiring memos/letters of transmittal to each homework assignment or required essays about “back of the envelope” problems and solutions (see previous blog entry). I can ask students to give short impromptu presentations on engineering topics or group presentations.

Communication is merely a skill to be learned and it just takes effort and practice and with more practice it becomes less effort. Without instilling these little skills into young engineers we will be doing our students a disservice.


teaching vs research university

By maguire | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off on teaching vs research university

I do not understand why teaching and research are coupled at universities.

At a teaching university professors spend nearly all of their time teaching classes and may not get enough real life or research experience (in engineering anyways). This is the knock on teaching universities. However, there are systems in place at these institutions to get professors this experience. At a research university it is the opposite end of the spectrum.

Teaching is not a job to be taken lightly or as an afterthought. However, this is exactly what professors at research universities do. I had a conversation with a professor (who is a good teacher) where he said he allots 10% of his time to teaching and no more. Teaching only a single class effectively should require more time than this, but the demands of his job (research first) require him to focus elsewhere. Obviously he is an effective teacher and relates well to students, but for many professors this does not work.

A researcher is at the cutting edge of his/her field and teaching classes in these areas would be great and this sounds good on the surface. However, the demands of rigorous research combined with the incentives in place for procuring research dollars creates a focus on only the research aspect of the researcher’s job.

I love research. If I could get tenure doing research only I would find that job, but it does not exist in my field (kind of). Because I have to combine my research with teaching, I want to be the best teacher I can be. This may take away from my research. But, I love research so this may take away from my teaching….and so on.

Why can we not uncouple it and have research faculty and teaching faculty at research universities? There is a bit of this, but it is not widespread. They could still work together but significantly reduce the teaching load on the researchers (one class or co-teach classes) and reduce research on teachers (consultants only).

In other fields private industry takes part in research. In mine I have been told this is not possible. I wouldn’t mind trying someday.

So I ask you, what would be the repercussions of this solution? Could we completely decouple teaching and research? Somewhere in the middle?




By maguire | Filed in Uncategorized | One comment

I have been thinking much lately about what I will do when I become a professor because I have begun applying for jobs (one of which is my dream job). Specifically, my role as an adviser. I will be expected employ undergraduate and graduate students to achieve my research goals. I look back upon my education and have no experience as a manager and no training in this area. I have only my experience being managed and being advised. This, along with teaching, seems to be neglected in training of future professors. I have had the two ends of the management spectrum. My previous advisers kept me very focused and managed my time very well. I had little time to think about what I was doing, let alone the big picture. My current advisers give me enough rope to hang myself. I have been free to explore things that interest me and provide community service. Which one is best? I do not know. Maybe it is best that we find our own way as every manager needs to at some point, but then why is management an entire major?

Why I am taking classes to learn how to teach

By maguire | Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Why I am taking classes to learn how to teach

The following article from The Chronicle sums it all up.

One part I found interesting was that professors must become “doubly expert” with respect to their pedagogy and research field. Additionally, they imply that those professors who do achieve this should help those around them. Of course this sounds good, but in my experience professors DO NOT want to change. If what they do works, they feel there is no reason to chagne. In fact, they fear this change.

This is one huge advantage of classes who’s topics are pedagogy in hire education (such as GRAD 5114/GEDI and Engineering Education courses). If change cannot happen through one or two “double experts” in a department, then it must begin through new hires, such as myself 😉 . I have already taught three semesters and have used many “new” techniques that differ from those I was exposed to as an undergrad (predominately chalk and talk). These techniques are often well accepted by students and I have great reviews with many students commenting that they enjoy the different styles and feel they have learned better/more from them. If for no other reason, professors should adopt these techniques to get better reviews!

I do not truly feel Harvard spending $40 million on this conference will really do much in the long run, but it is important to discuss higher education and Harvard is a well respected institution that many seem to desire to emulate. Identifying/admitting you have a problem is the first step to getting better. This problem has been identified long ago, but many are still in denial or a state of apathy regarding poor teaching.

I feel the only way to really make teaching in higher education better is to have faculty with limited research requirements OR completely decouple research and teaching. Until this happens, research will dominate for a variety of reasons. But, that is a blog for another day.

Blogging and STEM

By maguire | Filed in Uncategorized | One comment

I am not sure how to incorporate blogging into a STEM field so I am going to throw some ideas out there and hope for some comments or responses from my fellow bloggers. I am a Civil Engineer so I will typically reference engineering in my posts because that is what I am most familiar with. I guess blogging is a very open ended assignment/task, so it should fit with engineering, which is also more open ended than most engineers give it credit.

In engineering practice, engineers are given an open ended problem like make an airplane, or bridge this gap. I guess the instructor could give the class a problem/project and ask the student to heuristically, with words (maybe with minimal calculations?), work through some or all of the project. Of course, they would have to explain their decisions and assumptions and cite theorems and ideas from class. They could also comment on other students work and play around with each others ideas. Students could be partnered up and have to work together. I could see this working with appropriate problem types, but the instructor would have to select good ones and make sure to leave it open ended enough, but not too much. Sounds difficult for both parties.

This might foster communication and creativity, two of the most overlooked aspects of being an engineer (or human being for that matter). I really like how that could be tied into the assignment as well. Engineers are rarely required to write, I am sure there will be grumblings.

Also, what about if in my imaginary class room we are learning about fluid mechanics or something. I could ask them to blog about somewhere in real life they see (or maybe don’t see) the current phenomenon we are learning about and to describe how it is working. They could maybe give a quick calculation or two with some reasonable numbers they made up to go along with their description, focusing on putting the problem into words. It would encourage them to organize their thoughts on an abstract and/or mathematical concept into a well thought out physical description. Too often students are unable to achieve this.

In class I felt this large push for blogging, but I was given little or no relevant examples and details with respect to STEM. However, I had to leave early, so I am sure all of that happened after I left ;). Gardener Campbell seemed very adamant that it could work and was very encouraging, but did not give a direct application or relevant examples to STEM. I would much like some brainstorming from my fellow students. Any one have any ideas? Maybe this is what everybody else blogged about?


By maguire | Filed in Uncategorized | One comment

This is my first blog post ever.

Funny, I don’t feel any different.