Over My Head (Cable Car)

The title of this blog post comes from a song by The Fray that encapsulates my feelings about the entire lecture from October 9th – it literally went straight over my head. Like, I had to spend approximately 70-80% of the class googling things that Dr. Fowler was saying because I was confused. For example, I had no clue what a “microaggression” was and had to google it to get an idea about what was happening. I had no idea what “praxis” meant and had to google that. I had zero clue about the “banking model” and what “contract grading” was and yup – had to google that too. Basically, all these phrases being used just meant that I spent the whole time looking things up and I wasn’t engaged in the discussion.

So, basically, I got very little out of that entire lecture except the ability to flex my googling skills.

My end thoughts on the whole subject – someone asked the question about how to apply ethical discussion to subjects that aren’t inherently “ethical” (like engineering). In my mind, every time the student submits an assignment, project, or exam, that is a lesson in ethics. I trust that they are learning the different between right and wrong in terms of the fact that they agree that they did the assignment themselves and did not cheat. To me, that feels like a lesson in and of itself.

The INTERNET!

Hi all!

 

So, I have never taken an online class, like, ever. I do not think I would like it very much. I feel like I would have a tendency to forget things (like this blog post – can I get a FAIL for turning this in late?!). I do not at ALL think I would like to teach in an online setting. I am personally more of a hands-on kind of learner and teacher and do not think that I would be really suited to teach in this kind of environment.  I really think it comes down to my style and who I am as a person. Also, I am pretty terrible with technology sometimes and I do not think that I would be an effective educator in this setting.

fieldwork

Hi guys!

I chose the word “fieldwork” (https://digitalpedagogy.mla.hcommons.org/keywords/fieldwork/). Why? Well, as a civil engineer, I always feel like its better to show projects sometimes instead of just talking for hours on end about a topic without any context. For example, if I were a faculty member here right now, I would be absolutely dying to show them the project sites that are going on around VT currently.

In today’s engineering fields, there are many ways that we use digital technology to record and synthesize our data. For example, you have GIS, BIM, project websites, video streams, drones, and so many other things. So, I would use this opportunity to teach students about how these technologies apply to modern construction and to transmit the data to the clients in a better manner.

Implementation, y’all!

Y’all, here is to the end of the first bit of this class, aka we’re switching professors starting next week!

Most of my experiences with these types of teaching styles (CBL and PBL) have been pretty poor – the idea is sound but the execution of the actual teaching has been horrifically sloppy and inappropriate. I also had a bit of a unique undergraduate experience compared to many of my peers. Several colleges at my university (University of Cincinnati – go Bearcats!) required internships to graduate. This included the College of Engineering, DAAP (its the art school), Criminal Justice, Business, Nursing, and maybe a couple others I am missing. Anyways, in CoE, if you didn’t intern, you didn’t graduate. Simple as that. After your freshman year, you alternated between a semester of working and a semester of classes until your senior year, where you took two semesters of classes and then graduated. All engineering programs take five years to finish and you leave with five semesters (basically 1.5 years) of work experience. So, this basically drove our curriculum and I think the professors did not feel the need to implement these kind of teaching styles because, well, we were really out there solving real problems and working as real engineers.

I also think (or at least, again, based on my experiences) that there are many other ways to get the experiences of solving real life messy problems. I found my outlet for this in undergrad by working with Engineers Without Borders on water systems in Tanzania. And this way WAY more satisfying than anything I could do in a classroom project, especially since this project was a multiyear, multifaceted project that really had no definite solution.

So. Where to go from here as a future professor? Well, I do not know. I do not know if implementing these techniques would go over well at all with the students or with my fellow educators, ESPECIALLY at intro-level classes. I DO think these kinds of things can be implemented well in upper level and graduate classes, especially the role of case histories. I think it would be exceptionally difficult for undergraduate classes, when students are being forced to cram more and more classes into their schedules (for example, I had to take 127 credits to graduate over 8 semesters. 127/8 = 15.9 credits a semester, so lets say 18 to make it a nice, even number of three credit classes – six. That is a LOT). I think that maybe classes are the way to implement these type of experiences, but I also know that I had other out of the classroom experiences that filled the void of project-based or case-based teaching in the classroom.

Long story short – I don’t know where I would be going from here.

CBL

As we discussed (a bit) in class, there seems to be quite a bit of ambiguity to the definitions of “case-based learning” and “project-based learning.” Since everyone seems to define these two methods in their own way, I thought I’d throw another definition from our friends in the Great White North (Canada) out there (note: these are all from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario:

Case- based learning: https://www.queensu.ca/ctl/teaching-support/instructional-strategies/case-based-learning
Problem-based learning: https://www.queensu.ca/ctl/teaching-support/instructional-strategies/problem-based-learning

So, how would I want to incorporate this into my future classroom? At the heart of geotechnical engineering is case histories. The majority of geotechnical engineering textbooks open with a series of case histories explaining the relevancy of our work. Most of our knowledge of the field comes from experience of researches and practitioners – what worked and what didn’t work. In fact, much of what we are taught in class comes directly from experience.  For example, when learning about retaining walls (if you do not know what a retaining wall is, if you have ever driven down 460 and when you go underneath the new bridge by Lane Stadium, that wall underneath and on the sides is a retaining wall), we first learn that sands make great backfills and clays make awful backfills. Our professor next hands us a table and says that these values are from experience and from cases that have been shown to work.
This sentiment is spread throughout our discipline. Much of our modern design considerations of dams, levees, and soil strength come directly from the lessons we learned after the levee failures in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina ( for your knowledge, here is a wikipedia page that covers the basics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2005_levee_failures_in_Greater_New_Orleans). We send teams of engineers to regions struck by natural disasters so we can enhance our design knowledge (for your reference, here is the link to the association homepage – many members of my faculty are members of this association: http://www.geerassociation.org/). Furthermore, one of the most prolific emeritus members of our faculty gives a guest seminar at our graduate seminar every year and typically presents on failures so we can appreciate what didn’t work.

So, again, I ask the question: how to incorporate this into my future classroom? One way to do so would be to start the entire course with a case history to emphasize why does this even matter? (I should note – for the Civil Engineering curriculum, students have to choose 6  of 8 intro classes to take; Intro to Geotechnical Engineering is the most-skipped class, plus we are easily the smallest civil engineering group at VT). Every major topic can easily have a (short) case history incorporated. Furthermore, due to the (relative) small size of our field, it is incredibly easy to contact members of industry for their case histories and incorporate new examples into the curriculum.

I feel like we are not unique in many of these regards. It is like that episode of How I Met Your Mother when Ted tells the story of how they became the cause of a sign in Maclarens. Everything has some sort of story behind it and some reason for as to why it is now a thing. Every field is like this – everything has a reason, so why not tell a compelling story as to why?

Story time!!

Once upon a time, during my very first week of engineering school, I was in a class that was basically the equivalent of Introduction to Engineering. There were sixty kids in the class and we had to work in groups of three. I walk into class the very first day and the professor, a very old and weathered white guy, tells us that he already assigned the groups. And that the six girls would be divided into two groups.

Frankly, it was kind of embarrassing to be singled out like that.  Additionally, as the articles we read for class stated, groups tend to produce better results if they part of diverse teams. So, as a future educator, I would want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to work in a bunch of different groups and get the chance to work with a bunch of different people. The classes where I did have the chance to work with a range of people have been absolutely amazing and enjoyable. And as a teacher, I would love to implement this for my future students.

Future-rama!

Image result for futurama good news everyone

Good news everyone! We are the future of universities, education, AND have the power to change the system!

There are so many things that we could do to make the university system better, but I am a big advocate of one thing: cooperative education (co-op for short).

Now I know that some universities have this system in place, but at many it is not required. At my undergraduate university, it was a mandatory requirement for graduation from the College of Engineering, DAAP (Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning), and is slowly becoming a required part of business, nursing, and other degrees.

Most of my friends chose our schools because of co-op. This provided us with the opportunity to network, gain professional skills, see the practicality of our courses, and also made us a smidge less poor than the average college student. All of my friends had job offers at graduation and made just a tad more than your average person fresh out of college.

So, why isn’t this a mandatory part of most college curriculum?

First, it requires an extensive network to place all these students in jobs. UC has been doing this for a long time (over a hundred years) and has developed an extensive network of employers. Cincinnati is also a growing market and many major companies (like Kroger, GE Aviation, P&G for example) are headquartered in Cincy and employ many students. I have a feeling many schools do not have this network.

Secondly, it generally increases the timeline to graduation. It took me five years to graduate, but I only did a traditional eight semesters of classes and five semesters of work. I have a feeling many students do not want to wait five years to graduate.

Finally, UC has a full time staff and department dedicated to co-op. I had a specific adviser I had to meet with and helped me plan my co-ops and place me in a company that fit my interests and career objectives. I think that many schools probably do not have the budget  or staff to have their own department.

However, despite these shortcomings, I think co-op should be the future of the university. I think a lot of the time students pick a major (like engineering) and only know that there is job security and money at the end of the four years and really do not know what they are getting themselves into and at the end, they turn out to hate it and do not want to do it. I think these required internships make students more marketable and in turn, make for a more practical curriculum.

 

Lets Talk About Rankings

I started this post weeks ago,  got busy with research, and now I have changed my mind about what I wanted to write about in terms of rankings.

So. Rankings.

It is a little number that is assigned to universities around the world, with most being in English-speaking countries. In addition to the university as a whole being ranked (according to THE, we’re between 250 and 300), individual departments in the university are ranked. For example, civil engineering is ranked as the 9th best civil engineering graduate school in the country, but 51-100th worldwide. In case you’ve never seen it, here is a list of the VT rankings: https://vt.edu/about/rankings.html

So, does it really matter?

To me, no.

My undergraduate university falls within the same batch of rankings in THE as VT. I chose my undergraduate institution for two main reasons: (1) the first time I stepped on campus it felt like home and (2) they have a unique program in the College of Engineering where we are required to co-op for our degrees, which has made all the difference in my career path.

I chose VT for my graduate students for a multitude of reasons, but mostly the following four: (1) I was offered a full academic fellowship through CEE, (2) when you want to study geotechnical engineering, everyone tells you to go to VT and the alumni network is impressive, (3) I loved the campus the minute I stepped foot here, and (4) VT has a stupid good reputation; people from my hometown are so impressed I go to school here for my graduate degrees.

My point is, I chose my universities irregardless of their international rankings and because of what they could offer me.  I know that I am so fortunate because I get to pick my schools as such and not everyone has that privilage. So here are a couple questions:

(1) Why did you pick your schools?

(2) Should rankings really matter if the institution can provide the services and programs that best suit your needs?

(3) Would you still go to VT if it was a bottom ranked school?

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

So, a topic that has been dominating the new cycle for the last month or so has been the 2019 College Admissions Bribery Scandal, aka Operation Varsity Blues. I’m sure we have all heard a lot about this, but I had a few thoughts (especially after talking to my mother about this – I was home when the scandal broke):

  1. As a college student and (hopefully) a future educator, this makes me angry and frustrated. As someone who has busted their butt to make it this far in life, it frustrates me more than anything that people are willing to cheat to get into school.
  2. What is wrong with state schools? One of the parents’ mentioned that they did not what their kid to go to Arizona, but what is wrong with a state school?
  3. KIDS DO NOT NEED TO BE FORCED INTO COLLEGE.
  4. Also – college isn’t just about the parties and game day. Yes, they are an enjoyable part and definitely lead to some fun memories, but there is more to school than this.
  5. I do feel quite bad for some of these kids. Their parents’ actions should not be their fault, plus it probably sucks to learn that your parents think so little of you.

Social Media!!

For this week’s blog, I did a google search to find some more information about infographics related to faculty use of social media in the classroom. Funnily enough, most of the infographics showed up on blogs for this class! So to be (as I hope) unique in the infographic that I found, I had to dig down quite a ways to find this one, which was found from this blog :https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/margaret-andrews?page=7

Image result for faculty using social media

I’m not really sure what “LMS” is, so I’ll ignore that one for right now. So I will focus on the first three: assignment integrity, privacy concerns, and separate accounts.

  1. I can understand the concerns about submission integrity. With having more of this kind of data available, plagiarism could become a lot easier, especially since these kind of data are not part of databases like TurnItIn.
  2. As a faculty member, you are basically in the public eye, especially if you are a big name in your field. That means all of your thoughts and ideas would then be available and students might think they can come to you at any time they feel like it.
  3. Separate accounts can become confusing and mistakes can happen, especially when your personal views can vary greatly from your professional account.

Have a great weekend!