Engineering and Humanities

When I began thinking about how I could operate as a “new professional” and help revive education in my field, I found the Edelstein article extremely helpful. I completely agree with Edelstein that humanities curriculum usually demands and prioritizes originality from day one whereas STEM education usually demands reciprocation of information for most of the curriculum and then originality suddenly at the end. Demanding originality from the beginning encourages students to be developing their skills of innovation over a longer period of time and will produce students who are much more naturally innovative and productive when they graduate.

During my graduate studies, I have come to value humanities education much more highly even as an engineering students (even especially since I am an engineering student). The innovative and free-thinking mindset adopted by humanities classes is refreshing and helps develop and entirely new skillset that is equally as crucial to being a successful engineer. As Edelstein noted, innovation and creativity are still crucial in STEM fields and jobs, but we do not train STEM students to develop innovation and creativity. We train STEM students to learn and retain information and then expect them to magically have the ability to be innovative and creative as well when they graduate. That system just doesn’t make much sense.

Moving forward, I hope we can recognize and acknowledge the value of humanities studies for all students. We have seen how more diverse curricula benefit all types of students (as Edelstein gave examples for students in entrepreneurship, engineering, and medicine). Why not more fully adopt this beneficial approach more broadly as we aim to become “new professionals” instead of just continuing with the current trends?

Demonstrating the value of diversity

This topic (Phillips’s “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter” in particular) made me really think about how I prepare for and approach academic spaces and problem-solving. Phillips describes that diversity not only increases the amount of information that is brought to the table, but fundamentally makes us work harder to prepare for discussions. When I think about how I would approach and prepare for academic work in diverse versus non-diverse groups I must admit I would see some stark differences in myself.

If I know everyone in my group will be approaching the situation the same way I will and is coming in with similar sets of information as I have, I wouldn’t feel the need to do very much preparation. We would all present our points of view and the best plan of action moving forward, all of our opinions would come close to lining up from the start, and none of us would be stretched very far in our own thought processes. None of us would grow from that encounter. None of us would be faced with the opportunity to learn from vastly different opinions and perspective than our own.

If, on the other hand, I was in a group where I knew people would be coming into the conversation from vastly different perspectives I would spend lots of time thinking about what my opinions was, why I held that opinions, what opinions others may hold, and why I might agree or disagree with those. I would come to the conversation more prepared and by that point I would have already expanded my knowledge and exposure just in preparing more broadly. Then, I would continue to grow and learn by interacting with that diverse group.

I would be interested to see how many students are aware of that difference, because I wouldn’t have identified it on my own. I think it would be cool to conduct my own little experiment to demonstrate the value of diversity to my students from this perspective. For example, I could give two group class assignments that both required teamwork and discussion: one with groups assigned based on similarity and one with groups assigned based on difference and diversity. After both group assignments, I would ask the students how much preparation they put into each assignment. Based on my own experience and the readings on the value of diversity, I would hypothesize that they had to prepare more, would have more intense discussions, and would have learned more for the diverse group assignments.

If we can find ways to actively demonstrate the value of diversity to our students instead of just telling them diversity is valuable I think we can have a stronger and more lasting impression on how students value and seek out diversity moving forward.

Ok, so what is the RIGHT way to teach?

When reading Deel’s Finding My Teaching Voice, I found myself thinking a lot about what kind of teacher I wanted to be and how I wanted my students to view me. I’ve always struggled to think about how I would want to portray myself in the classroom. On the one hand, I want to be approachable and for my students to feel comfortable reaching out and interacting with me especially if the material is not clear to them and they need help. On the other hand, I worry about being too approachable and losing my sense of authority. At the same time, I have heard of some students having explicit or implicit biases and expecting more lenient or nurturing treatment from female professors. I’ve also heard about biases toward and disconnect from professors of color. Being at the intersection of these two identities, I have always been concerned about how to present myself as a professor with authority that teaches effectively to all students while being approachable and ideally well liked…..that’s all.

3 things in particular stuck out to me in Sarah Deel’s writing:

  1. It may create better buy-in from my students if I keep them in the loop about what pedagogical strategies I am trying to utilize. I guess I have always thought that professors crafted these strategies behind the scenes, apply them, and then cross their fingers. But it makes perfect sense to me now to share that information with my students. At least if they feel like something is foolish and they don’t see the point if I explain the potential value to them and WHY I want them to do it (or that it could help their fellow classmates) they may engage more. I also just think transparency is key, so that really hit home for me.
  2. There is no “right” way to teach; it may be more about how you use different strategies than which strategies you use. This thought has always been in the back of my mind, but it is reassuring to see it stated explicitly. Just because one particular teacher is extremely effective doesn’t mean if I use the same teaching strategy as they do I will magically be just as effective. It is okay for me to use another strategy that pairs better with my own personality and even what course I am teaching.
  3. When it comes to fairness, equality is not the same as equity. I have been discussing these terms of “equality” and “equity” with several colleagues recently, but I had never thought about the difference between these two in the context of teaching. If I want to ensure equality, I would treat all of my students identically, make sure I said the same thing to all of them, and expect equivalently excellent results from everyone. I don’t think that model works, as Deel alludes. Not all students need the same set of information or real-world context, nor do all students share the same or even overlapping learning styles. So if I want all of my students to excel to the same degree, I need a more individualistic approach that ideally addresses the specific needs of each student. That is where equitable learning comes in.

I look forward to crafting my teaching philosophy and my teaching persona based on these points and many more. It won’t be easy, but it does make me feel a little better that there is no “right” way to teach.

Why Should I Blog?

I am fairly new to the concept of blogging. The only blog posts I have written have been for classes where blogging was required. I really don’t engage much in social media either, so the frequent sell of leveraging social media and internet networks for personal and professional engagement in larger communities while tempting didn’t seem like something I would be good at. However, the following phrase from Seth Goden completely changed how I think about the idea of blogging: “What matters is the humility that comes from writing it. What matters is the metacognition of thinking about what you are going to say.” That rationale for blogging resonates with me as something that was easier to tackle as a beginner. I could blog just to put my ideas out there, to gain publicity, to give my research more visibility, or to create a public professional profile for myself that will be valuable moving forward. But as someone who writes pretty much exclusively for publications and class reports, taking all of that on sounded a bit daunting. I was having trouble finding a starting point to “create a professional profile and engage with the entire online community”. I was completely overwhelmed at that prospect. But writing just to practice writing and to practice putting my thoughts into writing in a space where I can quickly get an idea of how people from diverse backgrounds interpret my writing seems like a reasonable starting point (I don’t actually know if that is actually any easier, but it seems less intimidating to me personally). So instead of this being another class where I just write blog posts to check off the requirements, I am going to make an effort to really make this a growing experience using blogging. It is a chance for me to become a better writer while simultaneously getting used to engaging in a practice that will be hugely beneficial in the future. Hopefully this will be a starting point for me.