On of the most anticipated features of Teaching Thursday is its annual first year reflections feature. Each year, we invite first year faculty to reflect on their time on campus. Over the past three years, these first year reflections have helped more experienced faculty see campus with new eyes and inspired them with the excitement of new arrival.
Daba S. Gedafa, Ph.D., P.E., Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering
Dr. Anne Kelsch requested me if I could write a post for their blog. I gladly accepted the request.
I had teaching experience at different institutions before I joined UND, but different institutions have different ways of doing things. I was assigned to teach Civil Engineering Materials Laboratory I in Fall 2011. Even though I taught Civil Engineering Materials course including the laboratory many times before, it was a challenge at the beginning. There are many different types of equipment to do the same types of tests. In some cases what I used before are different from what we have in civil engineering laboratory at UND. Even finding where the different pieces of the same equipment were not easy in a new laboratory. Dr. Charles Moretti, who taught the course before I joined UND, helped me at the beginning and I am really grateful for his help. Civil Engineering Materials Laboratory I is taken by junior and senior undergraduate civil engineering students. The course is one hour lecture and three hours laboratory per week. Students work in groups of three/four in the lab and submit the report. The course is also a writing course. The original plan was for the students to submit four long and six short individual reports. The long reports were reviewed, commented, and returned to students for final submission. Some of my goals for the course were: make the course as realistic as possible by relating the theoretical background to laboratory tests, improve analytical and writing skills, become independent thinkers and team players, engage the students, be flexible as long as the flexibility improves the understanding of the course, communicate the ideas clearly and effectively by all possible means, provide prompt feedback, etc. I posted laboratory procedures, lectures, reading, and miscellaneous materials a week before the actual events so that students get enough time. I also posted my own journal article which was submitted for publication in addition to guidelines for the short and long report.
At the middle of the semester, I did ask students to write the pros and cons of the course since they already knew how I taught, graded, interacted, etc. Different students said different things about the same thing. I summarized the cons, included in the slides, and discussed with the students at the beginning of the next lecture. Some of the comments were: lab reports take long time to write and reduce number of long reports, do not know how to use excel for some of the things, return graded reports during lecture instead of during lab time, more background of lab procedures, etc. I included their comments for the rest of the semester as much as I can as long as I believed that the comments were used to reduce unnecessary burden on the students and improve their understanding of the course. For example, I responded by reducing long reports from four to three, providing an opportunity to write group short reports instead of individual reports so that they become a good team player, started posting more backgrounds for the different laboratory procedures, returning their graded reports at the end of lecture so that they would get more time to revise, creating one-on-one opportunity to learn the use of excel, etc. I also included group evaluation in which all group members evaluate each other including themselves. This is critical to avoid burden on few group members and teach accountability for each other. Some of the comments on Student Assessment of Teaching (USAT) at the end of the semester which made them understand the course better: enthusiasm and knowledge about the course, explaining concepts clearly, genuinely caring about the students and respecting them, a good listener, connecting with students, consideration of student concerns and thoughts, timely feedback on questions, etc.
I believe that learning is a continuous process. I learn a lot from the students and colleagues through time. I attend many teaching seminars and workshops to improve my teaching effectiveness. I am going to attend two workshops during summer: teaching with writing and teaching with technology. I will include the knowledge I get from the training and workshops into my future courses. I will use a small group instructional diagnosis (SGID to provide feedback regarding the pros and cons of the course and adjust for the rest of the semester instead of doing myself in the future. Small group instructional diagnosis (SGID) is much better since it is based on a consensus by groups of students and it avoids contracting comments on the same topic.