ASEE Prism Magazine Online - December 2001
Managing the Unmanageable
Spread the Word
A Bumpy Road
Giants of the Sea
On Politics
Teaching Toolbox
ASEE Today
Last Word
Back Issues


- By Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz

Simple aids make teaching effective without denting your budget.

The movable type printing press, blackboards, television, computers, and other inventions have, over the years, profoundly affected the way professors teach. When new, these developments were often touted as being the solution to whatever ailed education, but they did not improve teaching or increase learning if appropriate learning principles were not followed. Currently, computers and the Internet are the technologies of choice, and there may be significant pressure for professors to incorporate them into their teaching. However, such incorporation can be both expensive and time consuming. Instead of using mega-dollar computer-aided technologies, how about trying simpler, inexpensive techniques that are effective and take little time to use?

The following are some simple suggestions:
Blackboards (greenboards & whiteboards) are excellent for recording “permanent” information such as assignments, notices, and an outline of the current class. They're also good back-ups when the overhead projector lamp burns out or your PowerPoint has a seizure.

Compared with the blackboard, overhead projectors allow you cover more material with better student understanding if you also hand out partial lecture notes with occasional blank spaces that are filled in as the lecture progresses. They are also an excellent back-up for PowerPoint slides. Using one projector for the current transparency and another for the previous transparency allows you to contrast and compare, and it allows students to get caught up if they get behind.

Flip-charts, which are common in industry, can be used by student groups to develop their ideas and then for presentations to the entire class. Since this and the next suggestion are commonly used for industrial training, they help prepare students for industry.

Post-it Notes are often used in meetings to prioritize options. Participants vote on their choices by sticking the Post-it Notes on the flip chart or blackboard that lists the options. Student groups (e.g., the student chapter of your professional society) can use this to decide on project priorities. Or in an elective class, they can pick the topics they want to cover in the course.

Index cards are very useful for feedback such as the one-minute quiz. There are a variety of good one-minute questions. What can the professor and/or TA do to help you learn? What is one thing about today's lecture that is unclear? What is the muddiest concept in the material to be covered on the next test? Students can generate responses individually or in small groups. The use of 3x5 cards encourages student responses and brevity.

Models or cut-open pieces of equipment are often gathering dust in the basement or attic of your building. These could include complete chemical plants, cut open valves or pumps, piping samples, mechanical linkages, and so forth. Get the students involved with them by assigning a one-page paper explaining how a valve or pump works. Or have them sketch the flowchart for a plant based on the complete model. Students who like to work with concrete objects will especially enjoy and profit from these exercises.

The telephone is great for answering student questions, particularly in distance education or when there are a number of part-time students. Arrange to have “telephone office hours” when you or the TA will be available.

E-mail is a low technology use of computers, but it is a great communication tool. For example, if there is an error on a homework assignment, you can e-mail all of the students so that they will solve the corrected problem. And since e-mail often appeals to different students, it can supplement office hours.

Cameras. A picture is still worth a 1000 words (or more with inflation). If you can't take the students to the plant or construction site, snap some pictures. Then show slides or transparencies in class. If you prefer high-tech, do it with a digital camera and make PowerPoint slides.
Tape recorders. To improve group skills, a tape recorder can help students analyze their joint work. Tape the discussion and have students listen to the tape and analyze the group process.

TV and video. There are excellent videos and CDs available to show how equipment works. Homemade videos are also excellent for showing how to use equipment in the lab. And there is no better feedback to students on their oral presentation skills than video taping their presentations and having them privately review the tapes.

Every one of these simple technologies has a targeted niche where it can help to satisfy learning principles and help students learn.

Phillip Wankat is head of interdisciplinary engineering and the Clifton L. Lovell Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University. Frank Oreovicz is an education communications specialist at Purdue's chemical engineering school. They can be reached by e-mail at