How will I be a New Professional?

Throughout this semester, we covered numerous topics in this course relating to pedagogy. For those of you that may not remember, below are the main topics we discussed:

  • Networked learning
  • Mindful learning
  • Assessment
  • Inclusive pedagogy
  • Critical pedagogy
  • Multi-tasking
  • Problem-based learning

I know, that’s a pretty daunting list of topics, but don’t worry it isn’t as bad as it might look. Now, each of these topics can be used individually when teaching an have powerful implications. But instead, if they are used together better results can be achieved to ultimately become the ‘New Professional’ as Parker Palmer likes to put it. For me, I feel that this idea of a ‘New Professional’ can be broken into four components:

  1. Adapting the curriculum
  2. Being mindful
  3. Proper pedagogical praxis
  4. Proper assessments

For each of these four components parts of the list above can be incorporated and mixed together to provide what I feel is a curriculum for a ‘New Professional’. The four components and the interactions of the topics covered in this course are discussed in more detail below.

Adapting the curriculum
The first component of becoming a ‘New Professional’ is adapting the curriculum to individuals in the course. One method of adaption is the used of networked learning. Firstly, networked learning can allow for individuals to participate in the class when they are not able to physically in the classroom. Networked learning can allow for deeper conversations to occur  through the use of blogging or similar online outlets. Adaption does not just stop at the use of blogging and online platforms. Adaption to new technologies in general is as a huge deal. Nobody wants to be taught by a professor that uses transparencies and a slide rule.

Being mindful
A ‘New Professional’ needs to be mindful of the students and be sure to take what Ken Robinson had to say in mind. In order for the students to flourish  a ‘New Professional’ needs to be mindful for three principles: diversity, curiosity, and creativity. Stifling any of these principles can have an adverse effect on the learning process. Being mindful covers more than ensuring your students have the three principles needed to flourish. A ‘New Professional’ must be mindful of the grading policy he/she puts in place. In certain instances an A-F grad may not be the right answer for providing feedback to students. A ‘New Professional’ must be mindful of competition amongst students. I feel that competition can have a positive impact on the students when used in moderation (The Bright Side of Competition Projects). However, if competition is used improperly it can lead to students playing it safe and not learning as much because they are scared to get a “low grade”.

Proper pedagogical praxis
The third component is using a proper pedagogical praxis when teaching a course. When in the classroom, it is important to use teaching methods that work for the students in the class being taught. This means that one method that works one semester may not work as well the next. There are numerous pedagogical praxis out there each with their own spin on what is important and what isn’t in the classroom. In this course we talked about inclusive and critical pedagogies specifically. I think both of these pedagogical praxis are a good start to forming a proper pedagogical praxis. The use of an inclusive pedagogy was illustrated in the first two components above so I will not repeat it here. Looking at what Freire had to say, it is important to not view students as empty banks where information is to be dumped. Instead, a ‘New Professional’ would use dialogic engagement.

Proper assessments
Being a ‘New Professional’ does not stop at teaching information, which is why the fourth component exists, assessments and course work. Deciding what assessment is best is a difficult choice, but it is one that every educator must make. One assessment that I feel will be used at least once in every course I teach is problem-based learning. I want students to develop the critical thinking skills that are necessary for engineering. While knowing the theory and calculations to back up claims is absolutely necessary, in industry there is no book with answers in the back to problems they will face. Therefore, students will need to be able think critically and use logical arguments to back up their claim, both concepts that are taught through problem-based learning assignments.

Final Comments
I feel it is impossible to say that there is one way formula to being a ‘New Professional’. Being a ‘New Professional’ is going to be different from educator to educator, but what will be the same same is the use of personal strengths to develop a curriculum that works for the educator and the instructor. As of now, I haven’t had enough teaching experience to know what topics I learned in this class will be of the best use to me. But, I now have a tool belt partly full of topics and principles that I can test and see how it works for me. Now, notice the “partly” in the prior sentence, I say this because I strongly feel that this course was just the tip of the iceberg and provided me with some tools but there many other tools other there that I still have yet to find. It is now up to me to continue investigating and keeping up with new developments so that I can be a ‘New Professional’.

Does technology hurt more than it helps?

One of the topics brought up in a reading this week is that people are using the web so much that their brane is acting like it is the web and jumps from task to task. As crazy as this may sound I notice that I do this sometimes. I will be working on something or reading a paper/article and then I’ll quickly jump to another task to come back shortly thereafter. Now usually this happens after I’ve been working on one topic for about an hour or so and am having trouble concentrating. A second topic that was brought up was that people prefer to read short statements and that this is due to the web training them to work that way. I wonder if some these ‘new’ methods of reading and parsing through information is not due to too much web use, but instead because of how busy people are today? I know for me I don’t typically sit down and read a full article or paper unless I find the information intriguing or somehow helpful to what I do on a daily basis and this is purely due to the amount of time I am able to devote to activities like these. If I had more time and was not constrained by tight deadlines on activities I would be more prone to spending more time actively reading and not scanning documents. Now there are individuals that are scared that not just the web is changing us, but new technologies in general (computers, cell phones, automobiles, etc.) which to me is a bit crazy considering how useful those technologies are and how much they improve our quality of life. I do understand that there are a few cases of new technologies that are not useful or do have a ‘negative’ effect. For example, look at what Jaron Lanier had to say:
It is certainly true that particular technologies can make you stupid. Casinos, dive bars, celebrity tabloids, crack cocaine…
But, at the same time there are more new technologies that are super helpful. I mean look at Google Docs, WordPress, even different Microsoft and Apple programs. There are new technologies being developed every day that allow for individuals to complete tasks quicker and easier than before and these new technologies should not be ignored and dismissed as making people dumber. Instead they should be looked at as a tool to free up individuals for working on new and more engaging ideas. Now, I do need to say that I firmly believe that there is a time and place to use technology. For example, I find Google extremely helpful when I’m somewhere and am trying to remember a random fact, name, or phrase but just cannot fully remember it. Also, just saying, being able to order food or use self-checkouts is pretty nifty for those that don’t enjoy having to deal with annoying or employees that just don’t care. However surfing Facebook or Twitter while in class is not a proper place to be using new technology. Everyone deals with technology different, there are those that love and embrace it and there are those that adjust their tin foil hat and scoff. It is important for educators to realize that their are these differences and try to find a common ground that works for everyone. Thus, forcing everyone to Tweet their homework assignments may not be an ideal middle ground just like completely removing or limiting the use of phones/computers is not an ideal middle ground. So finding a good balance is key. Also, that balance is not going to be something that is set and not touched for the rest of your career. As technology advances the balance point has to be re-evaluated and changed as necessary.  

Critical Pedagogy

What does Freire’s approach to teaching and learning emphasize and why?
Freire’s approach emphasizes the importance of dialog between teachers and students where both are learning and developing as opposed to the teacher dumping information on the students. Additionally, he poses the need for “Problem-posing” education, an education where the problems of human beings and their relations with the world are brought into question. Instead of using a what he refers to as a traditional “Banking” education where students are empty bins that teachers fill with information.

How does Freire define dialogic engagement?
Freire strongly believes that dialogue is not present when the Banking method is used where teachers’ poor information into the students’ bins in hopes that some amount of the information is retained so that the students can pass the exams and get through the class. What does Freire think should happen when dialogue in the classroom occurs? He thinks that the terms “teacher-of-the-students” and “students-of-the-teacher” will not exist and will instead be replaced with the terms “teacher-student” and “students-teacher”. Trying to digest this in my own words… It sounds that when dialogic engagement occurs there will no long be a teacher that teaches students, but instead students that become teachers and a teacher that becomes a student. Both the teacher and the students will learn and grow all the while the teacher is able to direct the dialogue and ‘add fuel to the fire’ to keep the dialogue going and to help educate the students.

What would a critical pedagogical praxis look like in your disciple?
I feel that a large majority of engineering courses follow the “banking” education format almost exactly. Therefore, I have become so use to this educational format that it is hard for me to envision a pedagogical praxis in engineering. BUT, I’m going to try and explain what I envision when I think of critical pedagogy in a ME classroom. So, what would a critical pedagogical praxis look like in mechanical engineering? I envision a class where the professor doesn’t come in with a prepared PowerPoint presentation, but instead has little details written down that he wants to make sure to cover during class (maybe something like equations, illustrations, example problems, etc.). Therefore, the professor can guide the discussion in the necessary route, but still allow the students to contribute and add to the discussion.

What is the difference, for Freire, between being “authority” vs. being “authoritarian”?
Teachers sometimes let their professional authority get in the way of their teaching. When this type of thing happens, it opposes the freedom of the students. This type of teaching would fall under authoritarian because it is strict and at the expense of the educational freedom of the students. When a teacher instead steps back and uses authority he/she is taking more of a director position. They do not oppose the freedom of the students but ensure that proper dialogue is carried out and that arguments based on “authority” are not occurring.

Improving Classroom Performance through Diversity

The articles this week about how unconscious bias and diversity effect our performance came as a bit of a shock to me. I never felt that I act any different when I’m working in a diverse group of people versus a group of people with similar race, gender, and background. Personally, I like to think that I don’t act any different around diverse people, but I would be interested in finding out if I do. When it comes to unconscious bias, since I heard this term in a seminar about a year ago. Since then I have been working on identifying unconscious bias that I have and making myself aware of them. Coming from the engineering world I found the seminar a refreshing change of pace. It was interesting to learn how a person (i.e. me) could jump to a bias conclusion about an individual based on one or more of their characteristics. During the presentation the presenter did a test that involved relating words and pictures to either Chicago or Boston (this presentation was given in Boston where many of the people have lived for a long time). It was interesting to see that even when a crowd was used when nice/happy things were related to Boston the crowd was much quicker to form the relationship versus when they had to related bad things to Boston. As more of a bystander than a participant since I’m not from either city I found it interesting that people can have unconscious bias purely based on where they are from. Thinking about all of this in a classroom setting. When it comes to projects I always like the idea of letting students pick who they want to work with because I enjoyed this more when I was an undergraduate student. When working in groups I find that I work better when I already know the other people and have had experience working with them. I felt that when I was put with a new group of people we would have to spend a sizable amount of time getting use to each other, figuring out how each of us worked in a group, and everyone’s strengths/weaknesses which I felt made group projects tougher. But, after reading “The Hidden Brain” by Shankar Vendantam and “How Diversity Makes us Smarter” by Katherine W. Phillips it got me thinking that maybe assigning groups and using the diversity in the classroom can be advantageous to producing quality results from group projects. This is defiantly an idea that I might try to mess around with in the classroom depending on the course, the size of the class, and the students in the class.  

My Teaching Voice

When I first started this post I though I would start by doing a review of the teachers I’ve had and think about what I liked/hated about them. Then use that review to help form my teaching voice. BUT, after going through the readings for this week I decided that instead of trying to portray myself as someone I’m not I would focus on identifying my personal strengths and use them to decide my teaching voice. The top personal strengths that come to mind when I think of myself are the following:

  1. Organized
  2. Detail-oriented
  3. Approachable (open-door policy)
  4. Excited about mechanical engineering

I’m going to cover each of these items in more detail below and how they are infused into my teaching voice.

In general, I’m a very organized person and I plan to carry that through my teaching. When it comes to teaching, I want to be prepared for every class. This means having “lectures” that are well formatted and designed such that each lecture lasts a single class period AND have this done for the entire semester before the class even starts. Now I should mention that I’m not much for scripts because I feel I do better ‘winging it’, but I do want to have bullet points so I make sure to cover the necessary information at the right parts during the lecture. In addition to being organized for the in-class portion I want to be organized in how assessments are distributed, collected, and graded. One last thing that I want to make sure to be organized in is the online parts of the class; I want to make sure the online part of the class compliments the in-class portion.

Not only do I like being well prepared for lectures and class in general, but I’m also detail-oriented and like things to be presented in an organized and well thought-out manner. For this reason, when it comes to designing lectures I plan to put a lot of effort into the layout and design of the lecture to make sure that it is as informative and useful as possible. In addition, I expect students to reciprocate by putting effort into the format and presentation of their homework. I don’t want to have to sit there straining my eyes to make out their hieroglyphics that they claim are their answers.

Due to my undergraduate education, I really like the idea of an open-door policy opposed to strict office hours. For this reason, I always like to inform students that they are free to come past my office with any questions they have. Right now, I always tell students to email me first so we can setup a time that works best for both of us. When I’m in a more teaching oriented position I plan to just tell students they can email me with questions, but if my door is open they are more than welcome to come in.

I genuinely love mechanical engineering. There are too many topics that I enjoy talking and teaching others about to try an outline here, but for simplicity, as long as it isn’t fluids or thermodynamics related I enjoy it. Therefore, when I get to teaching others about these subjects I can’t help but get a little to a lot excited about them. I like to think that this excitement rubs off on the students and gets them to be more interested and engaged in the material.


The Bright Side of Competition Projects

Thinking about how best structure a class and what kind of assessments work best and why that is the case can make a person go crazy. This week I was reading through Mark Canes article ‘Setting Students’ Minds on Fire’ when I came across the last paragraph in his article it made me reminisce about my first years as an undergraduate student.

But research shows that the strongest gains come from pedagogies that feature teamwork and problem solving. Experience also suggests that teams work harder when they’re competing against one another, and that students learn more when they’re obliged to think in unfamiliar ways.

Makes me think of when I little freshman student in undergrad. During our freshman year as mechanical engineering majors we were required to take Statics 1, a relatively boring class since things don’t/ aren’t supposed to move. But, the professors that taught the class liked to spice it up every year by having a team project at the end of the semester. This project would change every year to keep it more interesting and I’m guessing reduce cheating. My year we had to design a linkage and figure out a counterbalance for a crane in order to hold a specified weight that was hanging off the boom of the crane (the picture to the left helps illustrate what I’m talking about).

All of the teams were pinned against each other and the winning team was decided based on the team that made the lightest link that didn’t break and specified the smallest amount of counterbalance weight that would prevent the crane from tipping over.

I enjoyed this project mainly because of the challenge of figuring out how to design the link and the weight necessary, but also because of the competition part of it. By ‘pinning’ us students against each other it helped push us further and made us want to do better. One important key feature is that the team rankings only a small effect on our grade, meaning if you were the last place team you could still have a chance at getting a B on the project if you did everything else perfectly. For this reason, you had many teams that designed on the edge using factors of safety of 1.1 or dare I say 1.01 when determining the thickness of the link and the weight necessary to keep the crane from tipping. Us students weren’t playing it “safe”, we were building the edge. We wanted glory or catastrophic failure!

I think that projects like this really helped make what is typically a boring class more interesting. In addition, being completely honest, I feel like I learned more doing this project than I did sitting through the couple hours of lectures every week.

So, to try and tie this long-winded story back to the topic of assessment. I feel that project based assessments can be of more use than exams. When working on projects you have the ability to test if students actually learned the information without putting a stiff timeline on them. Additionally, when it comes to projects the project can typically be designed to push a student’s knowledge further and ensure that they are capable of connecting the dots between things.

I don’t completely agree with using grades as an incentive for getting better work because students either play it safe or if they do try to push the limits and fail they just drop the class and take it later to avoid risking their GPA. But if only a small part of the grade is used as an incentive than students may be more prone to pushing the limits, kind of like how the team rankings was done for my statics project.

Lastly, for projects to truly be useful they need to be properly constructed. I think the critical part of a good project is one that covers multiple topics that are used in the class. Working in teams can also be a useful, but I don’t find it to be as critical as the multi-topic criteria.

Grades…are they really an issue?

So after reading through these articles and watching the YouTube videos for this week it made me really think about grades and assessments. Is there really something wrong with using an A-F scale? Do teachers need to move away from giving grades and instead just give feedback and comments? Is focusing on removing grades a mask for addressing what the real issue is?

Did Craig just ask if discussion about the grading method may be masking a different issue? Yes, yes I did. I think that grades wouldn’t be such an issue if teachers were able to focus more on teaching to educate rather than teaching to get a score on an exam. Students have gotten into the habit of studying for only what is on an exam in hopes of getting the grade they want. If you take the testing mentality out of the curriculum and base grades on how much a student actually learns then I think grades wouldn’t be as big of an issue.

A second thing that I feel needs to be changed is the mentality of what grades mean. If students weren’t graded on how well they took an exam or two, but instead on how well they mastered a subject I think this notion of a C or lower is essentially failing could disappear. Instead think about grading as if  it was karate (I’m hoping I don’t butcher this analogy since I’ve never done karate in my life). In karate when the master feels you proven yourself and mastered something he gives you a different belt and this process repeats and repeats until you get a belt you desire. If you lose track or give up then you will be stuck with whatever color you’ve achieved so far, but if you stick with it and dig dip then maybe you will achieve the highest honor and get that black belt. Now imagine if grades were done the same way. By showing mastery in certain topics you get higher and higher and if you give up then you get whatever grade you are currently at. But, if you stick with it and really work than you can get that holy grail of grades, the A.

The reason I pose this method is because grades are an easy way for assessing, throughout a semester and after a course is complete, how well a student actually knows the information that was taught in the class. In addition, grades are useful for illustrating to people how well the student knows a subject without having to make sure a person writing a letter of recommendation mentions it.

Grades are an easy way for assessing how well a student actually knows the information that was taught in the class. In addition, grades are useful for illustrating to people how well you know a subject without needing a teach or a professor to write a letter of recommendation. Grades don’t come without their flaws, but I think if the mentality students have towards grades can be changed and teachers can focus on teaching to education students rather than teaching to an exam then I think the A-F scale continue to work.

Is Engineering Curriculum in U.S. Universities Dead?

In Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk he centered his talk around the idea that there are 3 principles on which human life flourishes:

  1. Diversity
  2. Curiosity
  3. Creativity

He took these 3 principles and illustrated how they are not being used to influence the curriculum of grade schools across the U.S. and how the development of the ‘No Child Left Behind’ act has made it even worse. I would like to take these three principles and use them to comb through undergraduate mechanical engineering curriculum to see if the three principles are carried out.

So, let’s look past the obvious term of diversity and think about the diversity of classes. Does the engineering curriculum properly offer a diverse set of classes? Well…not really for the first couple of years (until your able to take elective courses). But the issue is that the students have to learn engineering basics before they can branch out into classes where they build off of the basics. Some universities do require students to take out of engineering electives. For example, I was forced to take 7 humanities and social sciences courses along with our typical engineering coursework in order to get my Bachelor’s degree. Now I’m not going to say how much information I truly pulled from these classes, but I did enjoy the break that they provided me from the technical engineering courses I was taking.

So in the end, I think there is a small amount of diversity in the curriculum. Maybe not as much diversity as some think there should be. The amount of diversity that is offered is completely dependent on the university, but it seems like all accredited Bachelor’s programs have at least a little bit of diversity.

Let’s be honest here…this is not really a thing. By going into engineering, it is assumed that you have a curiosity for learning how things work and the math/physics behind how things work. But while studying engineering you are not really given an opportunity to express that curiosity. Typically, some courses have projects, but those projects are usually designed by the professor and do not allow the students to weigh in on projects that they would prefer to do.

In order to really bring curiosity into the classroom professors need to allow different types of well formatted/designed projects to be performed in a classroom. There are many projects that can be developed using the same principles, just with different applications/outcomes.

When I was a junior every mechanical engineering student had to take a class called ‘Mechanical Engineering Laboratory’, a very simple string of words that really don’t describe the class well. In this class, we split up into groups of 3 or 4 students to work on a project completely designed/chosen by the students in each group. In the end the projects had to be approved by the professor, but there was complete freedom of what core idea you and your group wanted to study. For this project, each group had to first identify a problem, model the problem, develop an experiment using uncertainty analysis, perform the experiment, and provide the results over the course of a semester. In my class we had projects ranging from comparing the effectiveness of different radiators to testing savonius wind turbines to determining the structural properties of graham crackers/pasta noodles.

This class format really allowed us students to truly learn the ideas of uncertainty analysis and how it effects experimental setup by allowing us to perform a project on a topic that expressed our curiosity. In addition, the professor in charge didn’t have to come up with ideas/design experiments he just had to be there for support and guidance along the way.

Well it’s engineering. I find that usually creativity is not a word commonly used in the same sentence as engineering. Since most courses in the engineering curriculum are designed to shove information down a student’s throat they do not allow for creativity to happen.

Now is creativity completely sucked out of engineering department at universities? I don’t think so because there are still ‘competition teams’ that students are allowed to join. These teams are a great way for students to express their creativity through designing parts and working with their hands to build something. I participated in Formula SAE, a program where every year you are tasked with building an open-wheeled racecar from the ground up. By being part of this team I was able to take the knowledge I learned in class and the knowledge I gained from reading books and papers to exercise my creativity through modeling, design, and analysis of the suspension for the car.

I mean look at this suspension…I think that’s pretty creative in an engineering sense, but I might be a little bias.

Take Away:
Is education dead in the undergraduate engineering curriculum? No!

I mean it isn’t in the best of health, but I do not think it is dead. While, the curriculum does not have much form of curiosity and creativity in them I feel that extra-curricular activities sponsored by the university have these two principles. So, if there was a way to inject bits of these extra-curricular activities into the curriculum maybe its health could be improved and with enough people pushing forward the curriculum can become a young sprit curriculum in the prime of its life.

Networked learning…is it useful?

If you had asked me about this idea a couple of years ago when I was in undergrad I would have probably laughed at you and thought that it was a crazy idea. I only say that because for me everything was done ‘offline’. Homework assignments were done on paper and turned in at the beginning of class and any reports where typed in Word, printed out and turned in.

Fast forward a couple of years to today. Now…I’m starting to come around to the idea of networked learning. When used in the right context networked learning can be extremely useful. It gives students the opportunity to collaborate with others (not just others in the class, but possibly others around the world) and use it as a two-way discussion to improve their ideas and reasoning. Also,  as pointed out repeatedly throughout the readings, the more blogging that a person does usually the better a person becomes at writing. They become better at getting their desired point across in a well-mannered and interesting way. I’m a mechanical engineer and even I cannot stress how important this idea is. Regardless of what a student does with their degree being able to clearly convey their ideas to an audience is such a useful quality.

I would like to change gears slightly and look at ‘networked learning for graduate students’. I use the quotes there because I feel like for graduate students ‘networked learning’ is different than ‘networked learning’ for undergrads. Instead of using blogging to collaborate on assignments and improve writing skills, graduate students can use blogging to express their ideas on the research they are working on and use blogging to collaborate with other likeminded individuals to construct a stronger research claim.

As a graduate student, I don’t like wasting time. Therefore, I don’t like doing things that won’t benefit me or others in my lab. I’m not going to lie…I use to think blogging was useless and the biggest waste of time (please don’t hate, I have changed) and didn’t want to take the time to do it. Anyhow, when I was reading through the article written by Tim Hitchcock I saw a sentence that really stuck out to me, for simplicity I’ve included the sentence below.

“The most impressive thing about these blogs (and the academic careers that generate them), is that there is no waste – what starts as a blog, ends as an academic output, and an output with a ready-made audience, eager to cite it.” [1]

This sentence just really stuck out to me because it got me thinking about how blogging could be useful. It could be used for brainstorming and getting ideas flowing between others in your respective field. It can be used for getting ideas out to an audience before ever going to a conference or publishing a paper.

Thus, it is easy to see that assuming the information does not have to be kept confidential blogging can be useful when used properly and can help add another level to a person’s research/writing.

[1] Hitchcock, T. (2014, July 28). Twitter and blogs are not just add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion underpinning it. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from