Thoughts on Diversity

Diversity seems to be a very very very  SERIOUS issue in US. As an international student and a minority in this country, sometimes I feel I don’t quite understand the key points of this issue due to the lack of knowledge in American history. Also, I’m lucky that I’ve had very good experience with people from different cultures so far! Therefore, when it comes to the question of students wearing a shirt with a confederate flag, I may not even notice what’s the problem with it….

Last week I attended a diversity seminar that discussed about “micro-aggression”. I’ve learned about this topic from the PFP class last semester. So, my attention was not on the presentation. Instead, I was observing the reaction of the audience. Since this is a seminar required by the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, there were probably half of students who are American sitting at the center and front of the classroom, and the other half are international students who are from middle east countries and Asia, sitting at the back side of the classroom. When the speaker asked us to have a small group discussion with our neighbors, unfortunately, there were not so much interaction between the international students and the American students. In my opinion, to achieve the purpose of this seminar, diverse students should be in the same group and listening to the opinions from each other. Furthermore, I understand the importance of the topic of micro-aggression but if it is overemphasized, it will sabotage students’ curiosity on different cultures. I even started to think that this might be one of the reasons why American students seem to have no interest in other cultures although they are living in the big melting pot!

I believe that teaching students how to respect each other starts from understanding each other’s cultures. We need to recognize the differences of individuals, instead of ignoring it or trying to treat everyone “equally”.  Prejudice is inevitable at the first place. But as long as we show our curiosity and good intention to ask others’ about their cultures, and being open-minded to listen others’ opinions and learn from each other, I believe students can benefit from the conversation and broaden their horizons.

In my classroom, I would like to provide examples of technology from different countries. For example, I’m living in Taiwan where lots of earthquakes occurs each year and cause a series of engineering problems such as landslides while here in the US students have no such experiences and might not notice the importance of the related technology and research. Similarly, lots of stories can bring to the class by students from different countries or who have lived in other countries. I believe this type of discussion can help students develop their global perspective in engineering and will stimulate their curiosity in other cultures. I also would like to create a group project. Each group will be focusing on one engineering problem from a specific country, and they will need to present and share their works with all students.

 

GEDIF17 – Hey, Professor! I Wanna Be Like You! 2017-10-01 23:12:42

Two weeks ago I borrowed this book from my advisor. This book is pretty old, but still gives a lots of useful advise from how to design a course to how to do a lecture. My advisor knows now I’m getting started to write my teaching philosophy. As a result, he told me we have to spend some time in our every meeting to discuss about teaching. Ahhhh~~ so nice of him……

Anyway!! Let me get back to the topic of this week!

Instead of thinking about what kind of teacher I want to be, I would like to first think about what kind of people I wish my students can be after they graduate. Because the primary goal is to prepare them for  their future career, I list a few characteristics and skills that I aim to helping them to develop in my courses:

curiosity, critical thinking, creativity, solid background, self-learning ability, confidence, a sense of achievement, perseverance, carefulness, patience.

Among all of them, the most important one is to help them enjoy a sense of achievement during their learning process!!! I believe this is the key to other things because a sense of achievement will give them confidence to discover new knowledge, exhibit their curiosity, use their imagination, create and present their own opinions in front of others. In other words, learning should be fun for my students! The second two important things are to provide them solid background and to help them further develop perseverance, carefulness, patience, and more importantly self-learning ability! I don’t expect that all knowledge they learn in class are useful  for their future career, or they can still remember when they really need to use it. What learning in college most benefits them is let them know how to deal with  a problem, how to make a right decision, where to find the resources, how to overcome difficulties and frustration, how to do work under pressure, how to express their own opinion but also respect comments from others and etc.

In summary, I think the learning process is actually more important than the knowledge delivered in class. College is highly likely to be their last education in their lives. During these four years, we need to teach them to become their own teachers so that they can learn new things on their own when it’s needed.

But… How to make my students have the above mentioned skills and characteristics?

Oh well… I still haven’t figured it out yet… :p

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Embrace Change!

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Last week in class we were discussing that nowadays because everything you can learn from the internet, the traditional class-room type of lecture should be gradually evolving to be in  “discussion” style, rather than giving them information/knowledge that they can simply find online.  In my opinion, teachers are storytellers, who can combine the existing knowledge and correct information to become stories that are interesting to students.  In the past when most of knowledge have to be found in books and publications, these information have been through serious reviewing process and constantly corrected by authors or publishers. In comparison, students can learn almost everything on the internet so easily through Wikipedia, YouTube, Blogs and etc. However, it is necessary for students to be able to evaluate whether those information are correct, and this ability should be cultivated during their college education, so that they will easily become a life-time self-learner. As a result, just like Thomas and Brown’s book said in their book,

“Wikipedia allows us to see all those things, understand
the process, and participate in it. As such, it requires a new kind
of reading practice, an ability to evaluate a contested piece of
knowledge and decide for yourself how you want to interpret
it. And because Wikipedia is a living, changing embodiment of
knowledge, such a reading practice must embrace change.”

On the other hand, how to become a good storyteller in lectures? How to create meaningful  and interesting discussion in class but still can make sure to have enough time to  give them a well-structured knowledge? These are the issues that I need to think about and overcome.

Reference: Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, A New Culture of Learning (2011), pp. 17-38 (“Arc of Life Learning” and “A Tale of Two Cultures”)

 

 

Lecture is not just information transfer!

(This pic is unrelated to the story below!! Just want to share that there is a sunflower festival in Beaver Dam farm. I just went there last weekend. It was soooo beautiful :D. The sunflower is huge!! I brought my selfie stick and took so many beautiful selfie there!)

http://www.chronicle.com/blognetwork/castingoutnines/2012/02/13/four-things-lecture-is-good-for/

At the first week of this semester, I was lucky to have an opportunity to give two guest lectures on Intro Fluid Mechanics.  Last week I’ve asked a few students for their feedback as this is the 4th time in my life to teach.  Surprisingly, they said it was good and easily understood though a couple of students hoped I could go through the examples slower. Their positive feedback really give  me tons of confidence and encouragement to become a teacher in the future. When I was preparing my lecture, I tried to recall how I learned the similar material as I was in college.  However, I know that this might not be sufficient, because my audience are American rather than Taiwanese….

Remember the first TED talk we watched in class, the professor mentioned that he noticed students aimed to getting by the course instead of learning new knowledge. I think this phenomena is much more serious in my country; that is, most of Taiwanese students aim to excelling at exams due to intense peer pressure. I know it because I was one of them. For example, when doing a homework problem, I was pretty good at obtaining the solution. But I wouldn’t spend time on thinking about its physical meaning which is actually more important than the solution itself. On the other hand, from my 3-yrs experience as a TA at Tech, I noticed that American students tend to ask “Why?!” even though they already got the answer. Therefore, I keep in mind that in a lecture I should help students to understand and relate the physics they learn  to their daily lives or whatever they have known. I think if not doing that, the lecture will become “information transfer” as described in the reference.