I believe a solid knowledge of theory is the basis of student success in both course work and research. Innovation and creativity build upon a deep comprehension of fundamental principles which should be learned from class lecturing, continued understanding of course material and course project or laboratory settings. I suppose a good teacher will balance these three most important parts of teaching and could not afford to miss either of them. This is what I learned from the classes I have ever taken and from the effective classes I have taught, in China and the United States.

I have had the opportunity to work as a graduate teaching assistant for three junior/senior level courses at Penn State University: Industrial Robotic Applications, Automatic Control, and Structural Systems in Agriculture. I have been in charge of grading student homework and exams, holding office hours, leading laboratory classes and teaching homework review sessions. My goal as a TA is to assist the students to gain full understanding of the lecture material in a more practical setting through correcting their misunderstandings in solving homework problems and asking questions that may intrigue their reflective and rigorous thinking. I have designed a laboratory guide that provides sample codes and that students can use to design required applications, which is not in detail but bridges the gap between lectures and labs. It makes the labs easier hence reduces the potential anxiety of the students, which has been welcome by the students. In homework review sessions, I would analyze student homework solutions and show the tricky points they may have neglected. In this way I encourage students to see what they may have missed even though their solutions are correct. Among all the three courses, I occasionally stress students work as a team to do homework, labs or projects so that everyone can have a chance to see how others understand the same topic and evaluate oneself. From my perspective, this way of developing communication skills with peers is very beneficial for college students especially when there is no such course or such a teacher teaches you to do so.

My teaching is usually combined with research activities. When assigning projects, I would encourage students to read into recent literature knowing that they are doing a research and the applications of this research may be quite fantastic. In my Industrial Robotic Applications class, several students showed great love in designing a robot arm after I introduced how we can program for a robot in MATLAB in a lab. I consider an instructor as an important role to sustain the students' enthusiasm. Classroom teaching always ends up with more unknowns and curiosities, from where research starts.

I enjoy advising and mentoring students with an interest in research. I myself as a sophomore was ever awarded a research grant for undergraduate students and have experiences on writing research proposals, reports and presenting research work. For the courses I have taught, I encourage students to develop good habits of writing lab reports, searching literature and citing reference work in completing their courses. On the other hand, I think a good instructor should always care for their students who have difficulty with the course. It is a responsibility as well as a chance for the instructor to reflect on his or her teaching.

Recently, I finished working for a junior level course for a third semester, as a grader. I have revised the grading rubrics and used the ANGEL system at Penn State to give homework grading feedback to students. I am planning to practice using a personal teaching webpage to archive the teaching or learning reflections from myself and previous students. 

Below is a summary of the techniques that professors ever used in the classes I've ever taken:

1.      Writing on a tablet and uploading class notes to ANGEL course management system

It becomes more and more a common tool for lecturing. In this way, students will not miss the instructor's oral presentations at the expense of taking notes in a hurry and can always double check with the archived notes. It is easy for students to follow the instructor since they are writing in a similar speed, compared with presenting with Power Point.

Writing on a tablet is quite suitable for courses that contain derivation of formulas or figures and tables. Students can strengthen their memory when writing on their notebook. As for courses that contains more of introductive texts or figures or other multimedia materials, Power Point may be a better choice.

By the way, students are using tablets to take note themselves, which is paper-saving and convenient.

2.      ANGEL on-demand video

On-demand video can be used for distant students, or for professors to give make-up lectures when they have to cancel live classes. It provides a way for students to retrieve information as needed.

Currently Penn State owns several multi-functional classrooms that can record live lectures. And for cases that professors give make-up lectures, common camcorder will be useful.

3.      Google Docs for signing up

I've taken a lab-design class where students are required to choose two topics from a large pool and the students choosing the same topic will team up. Google Docs has a "form" application which is similar to Doodle and provides a good solution.

4.      Google Docs for collaborating

Teammates can edit a Google document at the same time, which saves sending the document back and forth.

5.      Online quiz

ANGEL course management system provides such a quiz function which can label your login and record time. If you set a time limit, the system can send reminders before time is up and show correct answers as needed. In practice, professors usually assign a quiz that is available for a range of time after lectures. It is a good way to make students review their class notes periodically.

6.      Social networking websites (Multiply, Facebook, Yammer)

I've taken English as a Second Language classes using Multiply as an online tool to upload and share oral presentations, making comments and peer reviews and submit personal reflections.

Facebook, on the other hand, provides a causal channel for communication. In one class I sat in, the students used Facebook to discuss HWs and organize group study. The instructor used to collect feedback on exams.

Yammer, is very similar to Multiply and Facebook, and provide private communication within pre-designated groups.

7.      Turnitin

Turnitin provides Internet-based plagiarism-prevention service, which has been used in my academic writing class.

8.      Online HW submission

ANGEL provides a drop-box function where student can submit assignments in a limited time range and get grades and feedback electronically.

9.      Audio-recorded project showcase

It makes use of Microsoft Power Point's audio recording function so that students don't need to make oral presentation in person but do it electronically.

10. Prezi

Prezi is a cloud-based presentation tool with the feature of virtual canvases. It provides better visual effects and can be accessed anywhere via internet.

11. Online feedback

Currently Penn State uses SRTE as a survey tool for all courses. Professors may create their own mid-term or semester feedback forms via Doodle or Google Docs. It can be anonymous and convenient.


Brief course descriptions

BE 303 Structural Systems in Agriculture

This course is about engineering analysis and design of structural systems in agriculture. Topics covered in the course include: structural analysis, structural loads, structural components, structure and system design, computer aided analysis and design.

The course's prerequisites are BE 301 Mathematical Modeling of Biological and Physical Systems, EMCH 013 Strength of Materials. Dr. Jeffrey Catchmark, associate professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, is the primary instructor of the course.

Textbook of this course is the print text authored by G. L. Nelson, H. B. Manbeck and N. F. Meador. The class size is about 9 to 18 students. The class meet three times a week, two for lecture and the other for lab. 

Course web space
Penn State ANGEL course management system (View image) provides students and instructors access to lecture presentations, course tutorials, on-demand videos, assignment dropbox, live Q&A panel, course calendar, self-built study group, class roaster, messaging, gradebook, etc.

It has been used as the primary web space for BE 303.

Collection of discipline specific links for students
Example multimedia file (combined with Example class presentation with technology
I've ever made a screen recorded presentation with the software CamStudio. Below is a screen capture from the video.

multimedia file.jpg

Example of electronic communication with students
To give feedback about students' homework, I have used ANGEL system to provide overall or individual comments to student, along with their grades. The picture below shows a screen capture of the gradebook on ANGEL:

Thumbnail image for electronic communication with students.jpg

In supplemental to assignment solutions provided by the instructor, I sometimes made extra explanations and distributed to the whole class through messaging system on ANGEL. The screen capture shows an example for a certain assignment for which students came up with many questions in the homework review session.

electronic communication with students2.jpg

Pedagogical innovation with technology
Google Doc has a function of making questionnaires. Below is a example I made with classmates in another class and will use it for obtaining student feedback about the course in the future.

Thumbnail image for Pedagogical innovation with tech_Google Questionnaire.png

Another innovative teaching technique
The lab session of this course concentrates using the software Visual Analysis. In the first very sessions, the instructor will teach the basics of the software to the students. One way I think of to make such process convenient is to use the screenshare function of Google hangout, as shown below:

innovation_screen share.jpg

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