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.