Monday, December 20, 2010

Teaching 101

This isn't a post about how to teach, but rather a quick glance into preparations for my first class at Drexel.  I have never taught an introductory course to undergraduates before, so I am excited and anxious.  The course is an introduction to biomechanics, focusing on the mechanics of deformable solids, a.k.a. mechanics of materials. 

Even before preparing this course, I've been exposed to a number of ideas on teaching.  The new faculty orientation at Drexel, and another symposium two weeks later, were filled with new ideas about teaching.  I sometimes forget that it has been 10+ years since I was an undergraduate student, and many things have changed.  Here are some of the ideas I am bouncing around in my head for this course:
  • Lots of in-class quizzes: This is partly to encourage attendance, but it also provides feedback, both to me (about how well I am conveying the concepts in class) and to the students (about how well they are learning said concepts).  "Frequent low-stakes grading" is the education-speak term for it.
  • Lots of assignments: I want to keep the assignments short, and intersperse the traditional problem sets with short reading, research, and writing assignments.  This is an unorthodox approach for a mechanics of materials class.  Why am I doing it?  Because I want to engage the students and get them thinking about the applications of what they are doing.  I will also be grading relatively leniently -- the students will get minimum 75% credit for attempting the homework (what constitutes "attempting" is a bit subjective).  This is another example of frequent low-stakes grading.
  • Every example will be from biomedical engineering: This is the hardest part of the class.  All mechanics of materials textbooks use civil or mechanical engineering examples.  A few biomechanics textbooks have mechanics of materials content, but it is too conceptually simple, and even in those texts, some of the examples are abstracted far away from biomedical engineering.  One of the things I noticed when I was an undergraduate bioengineer was how poorly professors integrated biology into our engineering courses.  That is one thing I really, really want to succeed at.
  • Writing on the blackboard versus Powerpoint: I don't think Powerpoint is a good medium for this type of class, and I like the blackboard because it makes you pace yourself.  At the same time, students often complain (and rightfully so) about the inconsistency and illegibility of hand-written text.  This is something I am really thinking about.
I am sure I will continue to post about this class.  Since it is a new course, one of my own design, though covering a traditional topic area, I really want it to go well and enrich our students.  We shall see!

1 comment:

  1. I'm a fellow teacher and gamer. I teach sixth grade math, but I use frequent low-stakes assessments much the same way you plan to with (I'd like to think) success. I give a daily homework assignment and quiz which are worth, at the end of a quarter, about 10% of the overall letter grade (final, summative tests being 80-90%). I find it keeps students focused and provides immediate and, often, corrective feedback. I'm curious how it works out for you. I'm also looking forward to your picks for one page dungeon crawls for 2011.