By Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz
professor has ever complained of having too little material to cover
in a course or the curriculumthere is always too much. The amount
of information that students need to know keeps expanding, and rarely
is anything ever removed from the curriculum. First and foremost are
the new ABET requirements for teaching communication, teamwork, ethics,
global awareness, current events, and continuing learning that have
to be addressed. Then there are new developments in all disciplines.
So how can you cope?
Toss out obsolete
material (which often means anything not computer oriented). Graphical
procedures are obsolete unless they aid student visualization. Nomographs
are passé. Exact solutions obtained with a computer are preferable
to approximate shortcut calculations done by hand. Since students ignore
theory unless they're going to be tested on it, either start including
test questions or scrap it. And of course, removing stuff is easier
said than done. For example, textbook writers and publishers don't
do it because they are afraid that professors won't use their books
and students won't buy them.
Be selective in
what you teach. If there are 20 ways to solve an engineering problem,
present the simplest method that has the most practical application
first. This will be the easiest approach to understand. Demonstrate
what its shortcomings are and then cover one other method in detail.
Don't cover methods unless they're used in practice even if
they are of historical interest. Since you can't cover everything,
help students learn how to pick the best approach.
Use teaching methods
that help you cover the most material. Expect students to come to class
prepared. Short quizzes or questionnaires on the reading assignment
can help. Hand out partial class notes and use them in your lecture.
Such notes help provide more coverage without sacrificing student learning.
Don't review material in classinstead refer students to the
Increase the amount
of time that students spend working on the course material, including
reading and studying, tackling problems alone or in study groups, working
in the laboratory, completing writing assignments, and performing computer
simulations. Expect three hours of work (including class) for each credit
hour, which means a standard three credit class would involve nine hours
of work a week. Schedule two- or three-hour recitations, which are small
groups that meet about once a week, so students can work on problems
together. Base a small amount of the course grade on recitation attendance.
Use mastery learning, which is a method where students study material,
move at their own pace, and retake quizzes until mastering the material,
as defined by achieving a specified grade on a quiz. Use computer simulations,
groups for homework, and other methods that increase the amount of time
that students spend on their studies outside of class. See http://asee.org/publications/teaching.cfm
for more suggestions.
Have the students
simultaneously cover technical material and ABET criteria such as teamwork
and leadership skills. Have the students work in groups. Require oral
presentations and writing in technical classes.
Students love extra
credit, so use it to encourage them to learn on their own. Have the
students earn extra credit by solving a problem using a mathematical
method or software simulation package that is not covered in class.
Look at your entire
curriculum. Instead of duplicating material, use the basics for different
applications in subsequent courses. For example, one might cover the
basic ideas of thermodynamics in a thermodynamics course and then use
those ideas for phase equilibria in a separations course, for reaction
equilibria in a reactor engineering course, and for entropy analysis
in a design course. Help the students learn how to generalize about
how to apply the basics to new engineering problems. This makes them
much more flexible and valuable as engineers. Make sure the students
learn what they are supposed to in the prerequisite courses so that
it does not have to be re-taught.
to learn some of the material on their own in laboratories and design
courses. This reduces coverage needed in prerequisite courses and helps
students learn how to learn.
to learn on the job in co-ops and internship positions, and through
service learning and extracurricular activities. These activities are
particularly good for learning leadership and interpersonal skills.
Require students to reflect on what they've learned. They can do
this by discussing their experiences in groups or by keeping diaries.
a curriculum with tracks or options. For example, a civil engineering
major can have the option of taking a number of classes in traffic engineering,
construction engineering, or other tracks.
In short, if you
don't try to cover everything in class and instead encourage your
students to learn on their own, you may find that it is possible to
cope after all.
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.