PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo - SEPTEMBER 2004 - VOLUME 14, NUMBER 1
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TEACHING: A Perfect 10

By Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz


Do you find yourself teaching to a room full of zombies? The class seems enthusiastic at first, but their attention inevitably wanes. And the apathy is contagious. Even you lose interest. Here are 10 proven steps that can bring you and your class back to life.

  1. Prepare a list of educational objectives. They will help students know what to study and what they'll be able to do after completing the class. Studies show that students learn more when provided with this information. Use the well-known Bloom's Taxonomy to develop objectives.

  2. Teach inductively. Undergraduates generally learn new material best when it's introduced with simple, specific examples. Once these are mastered, more difficult ones can be presented and a general procedure developed.

  3. Avoid MEGO ("my eyes glaze over") by dividing lectures into segments separated by activity breaks. The maximum attention span of most students seems to be about 15 minutes.

  4. Practice active learning during the activity breaks. Ask small groups of students to undertake activities such as brainstorming, developing questions for the instructor, or solving a problem. This activity will energize students for the next lecture segment.

  5. Be enthusiastic. The reason most of us became professors is because we love the material we teach. Share that enthusiasm and explain why the material is important. Enthusiastic professors have enthusiastic students.

  6. Learn students' names. Knowing the names of students is absolutely necessary for developing a rapport with them. By doing so, you'll reduce discipline problems and cheating.

  7. Come early and stay late. Coming early allows you time to set up the classroom and sends the message that you want to be there. Staying late is the best way to answer questions.

  8. Increase student work time. Students who study more learn more. Encourage study groups for homework and projects. Have one question on the test that is closely related to homework so that its benefits are obvious.

  9. Reduce or eliminate time pressure on tests. The purpose of a test is to distinguish between students who know the material and those who don't. Students need time to show what they know. Reduce the length of tests or provide more time.

  10. After the first test, ask students how you can help them learn. Give them five minutes to fill out 3" x 5" cards. You will get a number of useful responses. But for this to work, you must follow up on some of them. In large classes we're usually asked to tell students to shut up. By reading such requests out loud, it makes it OK to ask students to be quiet.

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


The Cheating Culture - By Jeffrey Selingo
Remade in Japan - By Lucille Craft
Revolutionary Approach - By Stephen Budiansky
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A WORLD-CLASS ACT - By Thomas K. Grose
FACULTY'S FINEST: Kristi Anseth - By Thomas K. Grose
ON CAMPUS: Cyber Sentinels - By Robert Gardner
TEACHING: A Perfect 10 - By Phillip Wankat and Frank Oreovicz
LAST WORD: Crisis or Opportunity? - By Duane Abata


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