Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Where is college engineering education heading?

I tried to have a conversation about this with some upper level administrators at my school recently and I couldn't get an answer out of them? They quoted statistics about how society is changing and becoming more demanding, but didn't provide any strategy about how we are supposed to deal with these changes. Instead I was referred to education research on how to be a better teacher.

I agree that we need to rethink and revamp the approach of having a professor copy lecture notes onto a board for an hour 3 days a week, but there needs to be a line and we need to be doing what is in the best interest of society and companies that hire these future engineers to work on huge and often potentially dangerous projects.

Where does the song and dance end? Are we all going to end up as clowns that are paid to amuse and entertain students?

Do you really learn anything if you have a derivation shown on a page with a few answers missing?

How many people have/had handouts/worksheets on a regular basis in their upper level engineering courses? Is it really that difficult to listen and write at the same time? Do you want someone who can't handle this simple multitask to be responsible for an oil refinery?


  1. I don't do PPT, only chalk-and-talk. On a very rare occasion I show a few slides or a youtube movie (e.g. tour of Intel's fab) but I generally derive everything on the board in painstaking detail. I hated PPT as a student (they don't hold my attention, I would always fall asleep, no matter what time of day) so I don't do them with my students. Students listen and take notes, they don't generally complain. Occasionally one will leave a comment that s/he prefers PPT, but I don't care. My evals are always pretty high.

    I give hand-written lecture notes as a booklet at the start of the semester, too, so they can look stuff up, but generally have good attendance in my classes.

    Just do what *you* feel you should be doing. If you are not comfortable with how you teach, students won't be either. Forget about whatever latest fad the upper administration is pushing. Good luck!

  2. I never had handouts of that sort in upper-level or graduate level courses. Honestly, I would have preferred notes of long and complex derivations, since copying off the professor's derivation on the board is double opportunity for errors: in the prof's derivation and in my copying onto my notes. That said, I think a good textbook is the answer to that problem more than anything else.

    Professors *should* do the derivations in class, but if the students are spending all the time copying off the board, they aren't actually paying attention to the content of the lecture.

  3. I post my notes after class (typed up). I try to explain the concepts first and then I do a set of example problems for each topic. I return graded assignments within a week and exams within two weeks. I try to break up class with multiple choice questions for students to answer. I still get mediocre scores. The department has tried 4 different textbooks for the class and the students hate all of them for this course. I think GMP is right, it's all about being comfortable in the classroom. The problem is that I'm on the TT and my Uni expects me to really run my research at a level that competes with top tier schools, so there are days were I come to class not having gone over every last detail of a problem, even though I know the procedure to solve it and some days I'm sleep deprived and stressed about a grant proposal deadline and I'm not thrilled to be in class and it shows.

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