THOUGHTS ON TEACHING


CENGIZ CAMCI Spring 2002


Introduction

The objectives of a course and life-long learning

A few observations from the classroom

Evaluation

Research versus teaching and quality of teaching

Future

Final Remarks








Introduction

I have been privileged to teach Aerospace Engineering at Penn State for over sixteen years. I believe teaching is a serious responsibility and its main result is about enhancing the lives of others. Good teachers are the ones developing and offering avenues by which students expand their capability to explore and learn. Good educators are usually active learners and they act as role models for students in their effort to develop an inquisitive mind. Teaching should inspire students to explore, comprehend, investigate, challenge, create, synthesize and finally to design.




The objectives of a course and lifelong learning:

The objective of a course is not to cover a certain set of topics, but rather to facilitate student learning. Good teachers are not only concerned with the learning of a set of facts, but rather with learning that can be applied and used in situations outside the course examinations. The students need to develop skills that will help them in a lifelong learning process. The teachers need to stimulate interest in further learning. Offering a base of concepts and skills that will facilitate further learning and thinking is an important part of college teaching.





A few observations from the classroom:

Although engineering professors are seriously trained in their own technical fields, their learning process about the important aspects of teaching usually starts with their first classroom assignment. They learn the pedagogical aspects of being an effective teacher by experimenting in a classroom setting. This paragraph is my personal attempt to summarize my classroom observations recorded over more than fifteen years.


1. Education is a cooperative enterprise that works best when the student is allowed to contribute to it-when teachers listen and respond. Teaching effectiveness can be improved by engaging the students in the learning process. A good understanding of the subject matter can be enhanced by student's own work, exploration, practice, application, discussion and design.

2. The main objective of teaching is not to document the instructor's expertise, but to help each student gather a useful level of understanding of the subject matter.

3. Thorough preparation in teaching is vital in order to make efficient use of student time and energy.

4. Students may experience success or failure in a comprehensive educational process. The teacher's proper role is to encourage the student to keep trying by providing the tools and support necessary to reach one's full potential.

5. Instructors can occasionally be wrong. If they are wrong too often, they should not be teaching.

6. One of the most important goals of college teaching is increasing the student's motivation and ability to continue learning after leaving college.

7. Subject matter in our courses is usually relevant, important and sometimes fascinating. However, there is no substitute for personal excitement on the part of the instructor. The material must be presented in an enthusiastic manner with a proper sense of humor.

8. Students are adults and adult behavior is learned. If no opportunity to practice adult behavior is allowed, such behavior will not be learned.

9. Most student learning occurs outside the classroom. A good teacher is the one paying attention to stimulating and guiding student learning outside class even more than to preparing to give a perfect classsroom performance.





Evaluation:

Evaluation process is about distinguishing average students from above average and excellent. I evaluate students by carefully grading their homework, projects, mid-term/final examinations. I believe oral presentation of engineering project work is an excellent way of bringing some useful constructive criticism to their learning efforts. In addition to the faculty member's own evaluation, student peer evaluation is an important factor in assigning final grades to engineering project presentations in my classes taught at the senior level. I make sure that written examinations consist of some "challenging" questions that encourage the students think creatively and critically. After distributing the graded written exam papers to students. I take my time to explain the common problems and mistakes.





Research versus teaching and quality of teaching:

Definition of the proper role of every faculty member is important for a new faculty member. In many universities, formal definitions of the criteria for promotion give research and teaching equal weight. However, it is not uncommon to find that research is "more equal". It seems that many faculty members serving on promotions committees honestly believe that you can not be an effective teacher unless you are performing research. There is evidence that quality research and effective teaching are not necessarily in conflict. Many faculty members are excellent researchers and excellent teachers as well. Some excellent researchers are poor teachers; some excellent teachers do not publish research. Emphasizing teaching or research is a faculty member's own choice. Whatever the choice, it is likely that teaching is an integral part of a faculty member's academic life. Teaching skillfully may be less time consuming than teaching badly. Teaching well is more fun than teaching poorly. Thus, some investment of time and attention to developing skill in teaching is likely to have substantial pay-off in self-satisfaction and effectiveness in a teacher's carrier. I believe every teacher should be given some extra preparation time when a course is taught for the first time. Solid initial preparation for a course is extremely beneficial in terms of improving the quality of teaching in subsequent offerings.





Future:

We are witnessing a dramatic change in the dissemination of knowledge via computers. Heavy utilization and success of the Internet already has a major impact on instructional technologies. In the conventional higher education system, all students must converge to a place of learning we call "classroom". However, the current electronic links that are already in place are making the idea of "virtual classroom" or "world-wide campus" very attractive. The location and intensity of educational interactions can be increased, by effectively using the electronic media and Internet. It is likely that huge number of people will be educated over electronic networks in the near future. I personally see three major implementations of this technology in engineering education:

1. Effective use of the web as a virtual library. There are already complete course sequences and books on the web as experimental programs. Web is also becoming a large depository of scholarly work via universal document formats. Electronic journals are almost standard sources of information today.

2. Video conferencing may allow students in classrooms to interact with specialists and resources existing in the outside world. Guest lecturers may be brought in to a classroom environment almost instantaneously. Engineering design review boards can be effectively formed via video conferencing links between the engineering design classroom and advanced engineering staff of companies that are willing to participate in the education of young engineers. Another direct application of video conferencing is thesis presentations performed in front of a camera that is broadcasting the presentation to multiple locations. Many present day thesis committees include outside specialists and international members as educators and decision-makers. Video broadcasting of short courses and symposiums are likely to become well-established norms of the continuing education process.

3. Virtual labs can become effective in enabling students running actual experiments from home or a laboratory. The present experimental multi-media modules are valuable prospects in enhancing the current instructional programs in engineering schools. Sharing a jointly developed educational resource on a network of computers may prove to be a cost effective and time efficient interaction for institutions of higher learning.





Final remarks:

The main benefit of teaching is the pleasure of seeing students begin to think for themselves. The students are expected to learn and many times memorize before they reach their university student status. In the final stages of their high school education they will be expected to specialize, but in college, and nowhere else, they are responsible from discovering their own minds and to start using them in the best way of which they are capable. The teacher's role in the students' process of discovering their own potential is extremely important.

I already mentioned that teaching in an educational institution is serious responsibility. I would like to finalize my statement by repeating the conclusion of a Carnegie Foundation Report on Education in America. "If education can not help students see beyond themselves and better understand the interdependent nature of our world, each new generation will remain ignorant and its capacity to live confidently and responsibly will be dangerously diminished".










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