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By Richard M. Felder and Rebecca Brent

Effective Faculty Workshops

Keep them practical, flexible, and geared to engineering.

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Staff of campus teaching and learning centers frequently complain that few engineers attend their programs, and those who come often dismiss what they hear as irrelevant to engineering. On the other hand, some instructional development programs have attracted and influenced many engineering faculty members. One is the National Effective Teaching Institute, a three-day teaching workshop given annually in conjunction with the ASEE Conference. Since 1991, it has been attended by 992 engineering faculty members from 216 institutions, most of whom have given it a post-workshop rating of either "excellent" or "good."

Results of a 2008 survey of NETI alumni surpassed the expectations of institute organizers. High percentages of the 319 respondents reported that NETI motivated them to incorporate student learning styles, learning objectives, and active learning - the three most heavily emphasized concepts in the workshop - into their teaching. Their student ratings increased, and they believed they had become more effective and scholarly teachers. NETI also inspired about half of them to give their own teaching seminars and workshops on their home campuses and over a third to engage in classroom research and/or formal educational research.

What does NETI do that might account for its success? In his 1999 book, Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn, R.J. Wlodkowski lists five keys to motivating adult learners: expertise of the presenters; relevance to the participants' needs and interests; choice in application; praxis (action plus reflection); and group work. We believe that NETI's success with engineering faculty derives largely from the degree to which it has met Wlodkowski's criteria. In every offering, some facilitators were engineering professors who have made substantive contributions to the engineering education literature, and others were pedagogical specialists.

NETI focuses heavily on engineering course design and instruction, and engineering-specific examples are used throughout the workshop. General learning theories and educational research studies provide support for suggested methods but are not ends in themselves. The participants are repeatedly enjoined not to implement every workshop recommendation in their next course but rather to try just a few ideas that seem appealing and to define for each course they teach the appropriate balances between theory and application, lecturing and active learning, individual and group work. Frequent individual and group activities illustrate every major method suggested in NETI. The participants critique good and bad learning objectives for engineering courses and then write their own, plan class activities that promote skills specified in their learning objectives, critique a poorly written engineering test, and formulate strategies for dealing with various classroom crises.

Here are ways engineering faculty development efforts can become more effective, drawn from analysis of the NETI survey:

  • Design some programs specifically for engineering faculty, and engage engineering faculty members who are excellent teachers to co-present with pedagogical specialists.
  • Illustrate recommended teaching methods with examples and demonstrations drawn from engineering courses, and use the methods in the program presentation to the greatest extent possible.
  • Accentuate the practical, bringing in theory and research only to support recommended methods.
  • Suggest, don't prescribe; give choices; and caution participants not to try too much that is new at once.

Richard M. Felder is Hoechst Celanese professor emeritus of chemical engineering at North Carolina State University and co-director of the ASEE National Effective Teaching Institute. Rebecca Brent is president of Education Designs Inc., a consulting firm in Cary, N.C., and co-director of NETI. This article is excerpted from "The National Effective Teaching Institute: Assessment of Impact and Implications for Faculty Development" in the April 2010 Journal of Engineering Education.




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