Educating the Educators
The husband-and-wife team of chemical engineering professor Richard Felder and educational consultant Rebecca Brent regularly present faculty development workshops, including ASEE's National Effective Teaching Institute, on campuses throughout the world. The two offer the following tips on how to conduct a teaching workshop.
Make the workshop content relevant to the participants' courses, students, and problems. Many engineering educators fear that teaching workshops will waste their time with hours of irrelevant psychobabble. To counteract this fear, minimize general education material that is not clearly linked to the participants' disciplines; use discipline-specific examples of recommended strategies and devices; and avoid games, such as name-learning icebreakers or brainteasers, that have no apparent connection to the participants' disciplines.
Include both technical and pedagogical expertise on the workshop facilitation team. Workshops work better when you provide expertise in both of these important areas. Combining engineering and education is, after all, what participants must do in their own classrooms.
To promote good attendance, highlight the fact that the workshop will meet engineering educators' needs and interests. Emphasize the content relevance and the technical credentials of the workshop facilitators.
Keep content practical and ideas easy to implement. Engineering educators don't usually go to a teaching workshop in search of philosophical discussions about the nature of learning; most want to know what they can do next Monday to make their classes work better. Ideas from educational and cognitive psychology should support instructional tips and strategies rather than be an end unto themselves.
Be authoritative. Engineers tend to make decisions based on facts, logic, hard evidence, and research, and are scornful of anything that might be considered "soft science" or "touchy-feely stuff." Expect tough questions from skeptical participants. Be prepared to discuss the empirical research that backs up your teaching recommendations.
Don't be dogmatic. Assertiveness and dogmatism are two different things. Never suggest that your teaching methods are the only way to teach. Most professors resent being told that most of what they have been doing in their classes is wrong and that they must do it differently or accept being bad teachers. Encourage them to take a gradual approach to adopting new teaching methods, choosing their own path and setting their own pace.
Call on the participants' expertise. Some participants may already be implementing the recommended teaching methods in their courses. Give them the opportunity to share their experiences.
Practice what you preach! A teaching workshop offers a perfect opportunity to model your recommendations. If you advise participants to write instructional objectives for their courses, present a set of workshop objectives yourself. If you discuss the importance of presenting information visually, make your presentation graphics look professional. If you tout the value of cooperative learning, incorporate group exercises.
(Class) Size Doesn't Matter?
It's not the class size but the type of teaching that really matters, according to a survey conducted by North Dakota State University (NDSU) engineering students.
In the 1997 survey of more than 600 NDSU students, respondents overwhelmingly reported that they considered other learning factors more important than class size. Led by NDSU mechanical engineering professor Sudhir Mehta, the survey polled undergraduate students in six large sections of engineering science courses taught by six different instructors, and those in six smaller sections taught by those same instructors. The large sections had an average enrollment of 109 students, while the small sections averaged 31 students. The courses and instructors were spread across different engineering departments.
The students were asked to indicate the importance of class size as compared with four other learning factors: clear and logical presentation, active participation, quick feedback, and help availability. Almost all survey participantsó96 percentóconsidered clear, logical presentation more important than class size. A majority of them also ranked quick feedback (93 percent), help availability (82 percent), and active learning (66 percent) above class size.
The survey did not compare student achievement in large versus small classes, nor did it examine whether the favorable learning factors were more commonly implemented in small or large courses.
Hot Off the Press
Here are some of the latest engineering education resources:
Engineering educators looking for guidance in preparing for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology's Engineering Criteria 2000 will find a useful resource in How Do You Measure Success? Written by leaders in engineering education assessment and accreditation, the book offers a collection of articles recently published in ASEE PRISM on EC 2000 and outcomes-based assessment. Chapters examine the accreditation criteria; provide advice on how to develop an assessment plan; and explore assessment tools. Single copies of How Do You Measure Success? are available for $5.95, plus shipping and handling; bulk orders of five or more copies cost $4.95 per copy, plus shipping and handling. To order the book, contact ASEE at (202) 331-3556, or see www.asee.org/success.
Women in Engineering and Science
Although the engineering and science professions are still largely populated by men, women continue to make inroads. Journeys of Women in Science and Engineering: No Universal Constants profiles 88 women who have succeeded in male-dominated fields. Those profiled include Eleanor Baum, engineering dean at The Cooper Union and former ASEE president; Arati Pabhakar, former director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology; and astronaut Bonnie Dunbar. Written by Susan Ambrose, Kristin Dunkle, Barbara Lazarus, Indira Nair, and Deborah Harkus, the book is available for $59.95 from Temple University Press, (800) 447-1656.
Engineering and Science Stats
For information about the latest trends in engineering and science education and research, check out the National Science Board's Science and Engineering Indicators 1998. The 800-page report contains statistics on the engineering and science workforce; research and development funds; technological and scientific literacy; engineering and science education; and more. Complimentary copies of the report are available from the National Science Foundation's Division of Science Resource Studies, 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Virginia 22230; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; fax (703) 644-4278. Request Publication #NSB-98-1. The report is also available online at www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind98/start.htm.
A new national program provides female engineering and science students with industry mentors via the Internet. Launched earlier this year, MentorNet matches each student with an appropriate mentor and the pair then maintain an e-mail relationship throughout the school year, communicating at least once a week. About 500 students at 25 universities, ranging from freshmen to graduate level, currently participate in the program.
MentorNet executive director Carol Muller says the program aims to retain female students by "increasing their understanding and interest of where a career in science and engineering can take them." Too often students have little or no contact with professionals working in engineering and science fields, she says. Consequently, they are unaware of career possibilities and may become discouraged in their studies.
Although e-mail mentor/student relationships lack the advantages of face-to-face interaction, they provide added flexibility in communicating, Muller notes. E-mail removes both time and geographic limitations, allowing students and industry representatives to communicate at their convenience. Of course, the pairs aren't precluded from also meeting in person or communicating via telephone.
Mentors and students apply online to participate in MentorNet. Program administrators then play matchmaker, pairing individuals according to their field of specialization and other preferences. For example, students can indicate whether they would prefer a male or female mentor.
A project of the Women in Engineering Programs & Advocates Network, MentorNet grew out of a similar e-mail mentoring program Muller started at Dartmouth College in 1995 while she was associate dean of engineering there. Seventy-five percent of the students in the Dartmouth program rated the experience highly. "It just seemed like a natural to become a national program," Muller says.
Start-up funds from both Intel and AT&T have given the national program a boost, Muller says. Mentors come from these two companies and about 90 others. Industry representatives are eager to participate because "it's a pipeline issue for them," she says. "It's in their self-interest" to get more women in engineering and science. For more information see www.mentornet.net.
Coming to a Toy Store Near You
Just in time for the holidays, toy manufacturer Mattel has produced the perfect gift for those youngsters destined to become engineers. The new Solar Eagle III Hot Wheels action pack features a miniature version of the winning entry in the 1997 Sunrayce intercollegiate solar car competition. Engineering students from California State University, Los Angeles designed and built the real Solar Eagle III, which averaged about 43 miles per hour during the 10-day, 1,230-mile race from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Each Solar Eagle III Hot Wheels action pack also includes a miniature version of the vehicle's transport trailer and miniature figures of Cal State L.A. President James Rosser waving the checkered flag at the finish line, team faculty advisor Richard Roberto, and student team leader Roman Vasquez. The action pack retails for about $5; the car is also available alone for about $1.
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