June 9, 2011

Although the Spring 2011 semester has ended and many students are just beginning their summer vacations or internships, more than 20 faculty members from LSU and Baton Rouge Community College (BRCC) gathered for a three-day faculty development workshop (FDW) May 23-25 in the Frank H. Walk Room.

The College of Engineering’s (CoE) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) hosted the fifth-annual FDW, which provided faculty with new strategies for improving retention among undergraduate students. The purpose of this workshop was to enhance professional and instructional skills and motivate faculty with innovative teaching tools.

Workshop participants learned how to recognize students' learning preferences, incorporate active learning strategies in their classrooms, write and use learning objectives in their courses and implement effective grading and assessment techniques.

Dr. Rebecca Brent, president of Education Design, Inc. and Dr. Richard Felder, professor emeritus in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University, facilitated the workshop. Brent and Felder have presented over 300 workshops on effective teaching, course design, mentoring and supporting new faculty members and faculty development on campuses throughout the United States and abroad. In addition, Brent and Felder co-direct the American Society for Engineering Education National Effective Teaching Institute.

Felder commenced the workshop by explaining, “This workshop is about ideas, dozen or hundreds of ideas. We want you to watch them as they fly by and question if they can work in your own classroom.”

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, the CoE is using the NSF grant to attract faculty from engineering, construction management, math, chemistry, physics and English who teach first- or second-year students to participate. The goal of the program is to improve retention through STEP courses by designing ways to engage students in their classes and programs, and discussing activities to increase their students' understanding of difficult concepts.

“Educational research literature clearly indicates that the introduction of active learning strategies into classes not only improves learning and the development of critical thinking skills, but also helps to develop a sense of community which contributes to improved retention,” said Dr. Warren Waggenspack Jr., associate dean for academic programs, CoE, and principal investigator, Engineering Engagement for Student Success.

“An unintended but positive outcome of past workshops has been the development of a sense of excitement and community among the faculty participants from the many disciplines around campus. Once exposed to the benefits of active learning strategies both to their students and to their enjoyment of teaching, they embrace and incorporate the principles of the workshop into their classes. The role of the project and the CoE is to continue to support the faculty to make and sustain these changes."

To date, approximately 100 LSU faculty members, PhD students and postdoctoral students from the CoE, biology, chemistry, English, math and physics and eight BRCC faculty members have participated in the faculty development workshops.

LSU and BRCC, joined forces in the fall of 2010 to offer the “BRCC to LSU Engineering Pathway to Success” Program for approximately 35 academically talented, financially eligible students, who have completed the Associate of Science in Engineering degree at BRCC and will transfer into an engineering degree program within the LSU CoE.

This unique engineering program allows students to enter into a proposed engineering program at BRCC to gain an Associate of Science in engineering degree. Upon successful completion of the associate degree requirements, students would then transfer seamlessly to LSU to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in a CoE discipline.

Having BRCC faculty attend this workshop will help to strengthen the program’s recruitment, retention and placement into an integrated and comprehensive program that promotes student success in transitioning from the community college to LSU and foster the faculty learning communities between the two campuses.

Reflections

Participants from past workshops joined this year’s participants to explain how they have incorporated new strategies in their own courses. After attending last year’s workshop, Dr. Carol Friedland, assistant professor, construction management and industrial engineering, realized her students did not understand what constituted a good presentation. Friedland explained how she and a student worker produced a series of example presentation videos to help students better understand the elements of an effective oral presentation.

Dr. Mileva Radonjic, assistant professor, Craft & Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering, and three-time workshop participant explained how she has incorporated a midterm evaluation into her course. Students in Radonjic’s class provide feedback about what is working and what could be improved halfway through the class so Radonjic can reevaluate her teaching strategy. Students, Radonjic explained, are appreciative of the opportunity to give the feedback and see that Radonjic values their input.

Paul Britt, instructor, department of mathematics, noted that when employing active learning strategies in his calculus classes, “The students stay more focused and they seem to realize that I care about their learning. They know that I am not simply lecturing at them. They are experiencing something different from the normal math class and they seem to appreciate that. I have had students tell me they realize I am trying to reach them. Isn’t that what teaching is all about?”

“Over the last five years or so I began to question the effectiveness of classical lecture approach to classroom teaching.  The information accessibility explosion generation of students needed something different and dynamic.  I needed change as well, a fresh approach,” said Louis J. Thibodeaux, Jesse Coates Professor, department of chemical engineering and 2009 participant. “The Faculty Development Workshop experience was the key thing I can point to that catalyzed change in my instructional approach to teaching and learning.  In addition, it improved my satisfaction with teaching.” 

For Krishnaswamy Nandakumar, professor, Gordon A. and Mary Cain Department of Chemical Engineering and 2010 FDW participant, incorporating active learning strategies in his classroom was proved beneficial for his students and his personal teaching philosophy.

Nandakumar incorporates technology into class lectures to excite as many students as possible. “Research shows that students are the most attentive in the first 10 to 15 minutes of class time,” said Nandakumar. “Some students are self-motivated, while others need additional methods to capture their attention.”

Nandakumar personally invested in a tablet PC and the screen capture software, Camtasia, so that he can record lectures and provide notes with handwritten annotations that he adds during class. His personal interests in technology fuel his dedication to providing these resources to his students.

Nandakumar encourages students to participate in conversation and ask questions rather than worry about taking notes. Together, the class works through problems, and the lecture is guided by the students’ questions. 

“If you miss something in the lecture, you can go back and listen to the recording,” said Drew Scheinuk, sophomore, chemical engineering. Scheinuk uses his iPhone frequently to access the resources that Nandakumar has posted for the students.

Surprisingly, attendance has not decreased in Nandakumar’s class since providing recordings of class lectures and notes. When asked if they appreciated Nandakumar’s efforts, students unanimously agreed that these tools are essential to their success in the class.

“My students have told me that they appreciate the extra effort,” said Nandakumar.

“It’s simple to provide these types of resources to students. Especially in teaching engineering, I can demonstrate software in class and integrate it into the lecture.”

The benefits of the recorded class lectures and annotated notes are far reaching. Since creating a YouTube channel, Nandakumar has received e-mails from students around the country and the world explaining that they found his lectures useful.

“It’s rewarding for me as a teacher when I create as many moments of ‘ah ha, I get it’ for the students” said Nandakumar. “I can really see when the students get it.”

To visit Dr. Nandakumar’s YouTube channel, click here.

For this year’s workshop participants, the Fall 2011 semester marks an exciting time as they implement active learning strategies in their classrooms. Workshop alumni will continue to modify their teaching techniques and gather as part of the Faculty Learning Community to share experiences and provide support to this year’s participants all working toward the same goal – enhancing education for students.   

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Article by Cassie Arceneaux, assistant director of communications, Engineering, carcen6@lsu.edu or 225-578-0092.



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