Initiatives for Improving Existing Courses

Reminders. Students need to be constantly reminded of our goals and objectives for them. We are here in the business of making fine engineers, scientists, and mathematicians that are serious, dedicated, and talented; that are broad-minded, holistic, well-prepared to work with industry and to pursue graduate work with potential for excellence. Students need to be constantly reminded of the seriousness of their career decisions and the impact of their work habits on their future. A large part of my mentoring graduate students involves the process of setting goals. I impress upon the students that, although I am involved in determining goals, they are not my goals only, but theirs as well. Not only are the goals and plans of technical projects discussed and implemented, but also the goals of each studentís graduate experience. When beginning to advise a student, I very clearly identify their responsibilities and what I consider to be the minimum goals of a graduate student at their level.

Proper Class Demeanor. A section on proper manners, responsibilities and attitude toward colleagues, professors and college administrators is to be covered during introductory science and engineering classes. Several books related to this topic have been recently published.

The Student Portfolio. A student portfolio in every course can be used to evaluate a studentís progress, demonstrate organized learning, and assess the overall course effectiveness. It also serves as a holistic self-assessment tool, an excellent review and reference aid, as well as a marketing device. A well-prepared portfolio can give a student an edge when applying for a job after college. A typical format comprises: (1) a course outline; (2) extended class notes; (3) formula sheets; (4) special derivations; (5) class handouts; (6) homework; (7) exams; (8) projects; (9) laboratory reports; (10) computer programs; (11) relevant publications; and (12) audio, video and software.

Case Studies. Mark Twain is known for saying that ďGood judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment.Ē With the dual purpose of (a) helping students avoid professional blunders in their future careers, and (b) describing to them examples of typical work carried out by scientists and engineers, it can help to introduce to students the importance of real-life case studies. Instead of reinventing the wheel, through case studies, students learn to look for guidance from experts, identify a problem, research, and take a theory for a test drive.

Integrated Research Experiences. At the teacherís discretion and depending on the course content, I encourage exposing science and engineering students to modern issues in relevant subjects drawn from current research activities and practical applications. In the past, this approach has worked well in several courses such as Fluid Mechanics, Perturbation Methods, Heat Transfer, and Propulsion.

Delegated Student Management Teams. The idea of establishing student management teams may be implemented to help improve courses. Student management teams are formed of three or four students from the same class section, plus the professor. Together they try to ensure that the course is a success. Proposed strategy: Students meet every two-to-three weeks, away from the classroom and the professorís office. They discuss issues related to teaching clarity, homework, office hours, exams, grading, projects, textbook, and/or finding help in certain areas. The goal of the team may focus on the professor or on the course content. These suggestions, whenever necessary, are brought to the attention of the professor at the earliest moment. Through such feedback, the professor can better monitor the course progress. The team can draw suggestions from classmates as well.

Classroom Assessment Techniques.  A plan to increasingly rely on classroom assessment techniques (CATs) can help to more timely evaluate the effectiveness of lectures, problem sets and examinations. CATs can be administered at the end of the class period, about once every two weeks, through one minute forms that are easy to complete. CATs are a powerful tool toward gaining immediate feedback on teaching effectiveness and improving communication. End of topic evaluations can also be used in determining whether the students are getting the message across.  In view of new ABET guidelines, the focus can be set on constantly refining courses through additional market research involving surveys of students, parents, faculty, and representatives from industry.