Tech & Innovation in Higher Education

Pearson produced an infographic on the use of social media by faculty in higher education in 2012 and 2013. These graphics showed interesting information on the growing trend of using social media both in the classroom, for professional purpose and in their personal life.

The 2013 infograph showed that there was a 21.3% increase in the use of social media in teaching in just one year. It also showed that 79% of faulty believe that technology has helped increase communication between students and faculty. I found it interesting that while 59% of the faculty surveyed believed that mobile technologies and their interactive nature made for a better learning environment, 56% of the faculty surveyed believed that these mobile devices were more distracting than helpful to students work. It seems like its a balancing act between being able to take advantage of all the new technologies that are coming about and making sure that they are not being used by students in class when they should be paying attention.

The 2012 infograph showed that while a majority of faculty (64.4%) were using social media in their personal life only 33.8% were using social media for teaching. This infograph also showed that younger faculty tend to use more social media (both professionally and personally) than older faculty members. This makes since be cause young faculty members grew up in the digital age and were exposed to these technologies throughout their lives, as they were being developed. Where as older faculty spent the majority of their life and professional career’s without these technologies so it might be harder for them to adapt.

While the main concerns of faculty have remained the same from 2012 to 2013, the inforgaphics show that the percent of faculty that are concerned has gone for most cases. Another interesting thing to note is that a few more concerns came up in 2013 (bolded below) that were not mentioned in the 2012 infographic.

Concerns of faculty in 2012:

  1. Integrity of student submissions
  2. Concerns about privacy
  3. Lack of integration with LMS
  4. Takes too much time to learn or use
  5. Lack of support by institution

Concerns of faculty in 2013

  1. Integrity of student submissions
  2. Concerns about privacy
  3. Separate courses and personal accounts
  4. Grading and assessment
  5. Inability to measure effectiveness
  6. Lack of integration with LMS
  7. Takes too much  time to learn
  8. Lack of support at institution

Future of Higher Education

I think that we need to change the way we are educating our future engineers. I talked about this a little bit in my final blog for Gedi but it is such an important issue that I would like to discuss it further here. We have had a lot of conversations both in this class and in Gedi about issues with the engineering education, specifically the fact that ethics is not addressed nearly enough. This is the main focus of my other blog post so I won’t go into much detail about it here. Instead I want to talk about the classroom environment that I have experienced in engineering courses. For the most part it consists of professors lecturing for the full class period and students frantically trying to copy everything down. While my experience in graduate school is a bit different, in undergrad it seemed like the tests were mad to be extremely difficult and the main goal each test was to just get above the class average because your grade would be curved at the end of the semester. To me this doesn’t make sense at all. If students are struggling to get 40 or 50 % on an exam then the tests are either too difficult or the students aren’t actually learning the materials they need to in order to be successful in the future. To me it would make more sense to have exams that can actually assess how well the students know the material rather than if they can preform better than others in their class (which is essentially what is happening when the tests grades have to be curved). I also feel like students would be able to learn and understand better if they were giving real world problems that they had to work through rather than the standard textbook problems that are generally used. If students could actually see how what they are learning in the classrooms could be used once they become professional engineers, I believe they will be much more eager to learn and actually retain the information they are learning. This is why I believe that problem based learning is essential in engineering courses. We talked a lot in both of my classes about how students come into engineering because they want to make a difference in the world but then then throughout their undergraduate career they slowly lose sight of why they are actually pursuing their degree because they aren’t actually shown how they can use their degrees, they are just thought a bunch of equations and concepts that then need to know in order to pass their classes. All of the classes that we are required to take can be so mentally draining that I can see why some people who were once really motivated decide to change their career paths. Luckily for me I decided to join outside organizations such as Engineers without Boarders so I did get to see how engineering can make an impact in the world, but I definitely was not getting that though the course that I was taking.

I think that if we can make classrooms a much more interactive environment and provide students with real world problems to solve it will greatly improve the education of future engineers.

Bridging the Gap

The last session at the GrATE Teach-in a few weeks ago was titled bridging the gap, and focused on how we can teach social responsibility in engineering courses. This topic is of particular interest to me since I am planning to become a professor in Civil Engineering and we have discussed the topic of ethics a lot both in PFP and Gedi. Every time we discuss this topic I look back at my undergraduate career and try to remember when engineering was brought up in the classroom (which was not often). But everytime we discuss it in PFP, Gedi and even in this workshop it gives me a lot of hope for the future. It looks like they are really trying to change the Intro to Engineering course to be more focused on ethics and real world engineering problems which is great! When I was a freshman this course was known as the weed out course and everyone dreaded taking it but now it seems like they are trying to make it more engaging while still challenging.

Some of the challenges discussed for this Intro course were:

  1. A divers group of instructors
  2. A divers group of students
  3. Lots of both – about 1,200 + students and this number grows every year – making it difficult to have filed trips/real world events

The facilitator of this discussion talked about a workshop that he was involved in a couple of weeks ago where the goal was to produce new resources for engineering instructors to use in the classroom. He mentioned two activities that they did during the workshop that could be used in the classroom to engage the students

  1. Walk around the building (Goodwin Hall) and be mindful of the space and determine:
    • Aspects of the space that enable or disable certain activities/interaction
    • Design constraints that might have resulted in the spaced being this way
  2. Show and tell
    • Bring in an object that brings you anger/frustration or a joyful experience
    • Why was it designed this way?
    • What makes it difficult or easy to use?
    • What should have been done in the design phase to improve this

We did activity 2 during our workshop on Tuesday and it lead to a very interesting discussion on why companies would design certain products the way they do. For example someone talked about how the cable box provided by cable companies are pretty much just a black box, if something goes wrong with your cable there is nothing you can do to fix it except call the company or try turning the box off and on.  We also came to the conclusion that the majority of design constraints have to do with money or making more money in the long run (like how apple makes phones that only last about two years or can’t handle to newer updates, forcing you to buy a new phone more frequently).

I think these were really great exercises that will help engage freshman undergraduate students and hopefully let them see how what they end up doing as a professional engineer effects the people they are serving.


Valuing Knowledge: A VT GrATE Teach-in

Last Tuesday, I attended the GrATE Teach-in and found it very informative; I really enjoyed listening to and engaging in the conversations that came up though-out the night.

The first session I went to was about the null curriculum, we discussed when we learned about sex and gender, what we were told/weren’t told, and how it was discussed. We also talked about what we as a society consider “normal” and why this is what is taught. Maybe it is time that we actually discuss sex and gender as more than just male/female or “other.” I thought this was a great discussion and something that needs to occur more often in order to really see a change.

The next session was about how to initiate and mediate difficult dialog in the classroom. I really appreciated this topic because it is something that we have talked about in Pedagogy class and it was nice to hear about examples from actual courses taught by graduate assistants. A great point was brought up – how to handle these tense situations isn’t really covered in the TA training courses that we have to take before teaching a course. This is one of many reason that I am glad that I took the pedagogy course this semester so at least I have a chance to think about and discuss what to do in these classroom situations. I will say that until I actually experience some sort of conflict in the classroom I probably won’t know exactly what I will do, but at least I have some advice and anecdotes from fellow graduate students.

The last session in the smaller room was about communicating science, something that I have already written a blog about. Most of the points made during this panel we covered in class (how it is important to speak in a way others can understand, the importance of making science accessible, ect.). Some great advice that someone on the panel gave about how to effectively communicate science was to try to find one or two things in your field that everyone can relate to or at least understand and then use that to start your conversation.