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.

Final Thoughts


I love the quote by Parker Palmer used in this week’s blog prompt:

“In the midst of the powerful force-field of institutional life, where so much conspires to compromise the core values of my work, I have found firm ground on which to stand—the ground of personal and professional identity and integrity—and from which I can call myself, my colleagues, and my profession back to our true mission.”

I feel like this accurately describes my main goal as a professor. Working on the Flint Water Study team over the last year and a half has been an eye opening experience for me. I was the “dark side” of the engineering profession where the people who were supposed to be working for and protecting the public were actually causing them harm and then trying to cover up their wrong doings. While I don’t believe that these people woke up one day and decided that they wanted to lead poison an entire city, the choices they made and actions (or lack of actions) they took ended up harming an innocent population.

What I have learned through this experience is that there is definitely a cultural problem within these organizations (i.e. EPA and MDEQ) where they are more focused on meeting regulations by whatever means possible (even lying and cheating) rather than actually providing people with safe drinking water. But maybe there is also a major flaw in the way were are educating our future engineers. I know that when I was in undergrad we did not spend very much time discussing ethics or how we would/should handle situations that could come up in the professional world.

Through discussions in this class as well as with people from the engineering education department it does seem like we are moving in the right direction and putting more emphasis on ethics and showing students real world situations that they may have to face as professional engineers. But there is always room for improvement. As a future professor I plan to bring up ethics and ethical dilemmas in my classes as much as possible because I think it is key to developing good engineers. You can be the smartest most creative student but if you have no ethical values and are just in it for the money then are you really going to provide value to our society?

In “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited” Parker J. Palmer’s statement really resonated with me: “Does education humanize us? Sometimes, but not nearly often enough.” He went on to say: “If higher education is to serve humane purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it”

This summarizes very well the point that I am trying to get across, we can’t just teach students the technical skills they need and expect them to be successful engineers there is also human aspect that is often overlooked or ignored in our field but is equally as important.

Communicating Science

At the beginning of the semester we had a class on communicating science, which came at the perfect time for me. My research group was planning a service trip to Flint, MI over spring break to go around to schools in the area to explain the science behind the Flint Water Crisis. They goal of the trip was twofold, 1) to educate the students so that they can better understand what happened and what they can do to help and 2) to get the students interested in science by showing them different demonstrations about water chemistry and corrosion. While many of the students in our group had given presentations on Flint, they were mostly at Civil Engineering conferences where most of the attendees had background knowledge on the crisis and water quality in general.

At first we thought we would be able to take the base presentation that out group has for conferences and adapt them so that students could follow them and stay engaged. However we soon realized that making a presentation on the science behind the Flint water crisis was going to be a much greater task than we initially thought. I think we came-up with at least 3 presentations before we finally found something that worked, and the students who actually went up to Flint were adapting the presentation throughout the week once they found out what worked and what didn’t work at each school.

This processes was really eye-opening to us. We realized that we were so invested in this project since we had be working on it and presenting on it for over a year and a half that there were a lot of things that we knew but wouldn’t be apparent to someone who wasn’t on our team. Luckily we had a student who was coming up to Flint with us who wasn’t actually a member of the Flint Water Study Team and actually wasn’t on the Environmental track of Civil Engineering so she was able to tell us when we were brushing over a concept that these students might not fully understand.

We also had to make the presentation engaging and relatable for the students so we had to think about what they were learning in their science classes and how we could incorporate it into the presentation. Someone in our group suggested we use the scientific method (observe, ask, test, analyze, observe again, and communicate) to help explain what happened. This is a concept that most students learn early on in their science classes so we assumed that the majority of our audience would be able to follow it. At first we thought this would just be a good thing to add to the end of our presentation once we had already discussed what happened in Flint and the science behind it, kind of like a conclusion to our presentation, but after a few meetings and a run through of our presentation we realized that it would actually be better if the scientific method was the theme for our presentation so we used it to tell the story of Flint.

While this seemed like an extremely long process at the time (it seemed like we were completely changing the presentation every time we met) I think it was a great learning experience for us all. We were able to step back from the work that we were doing and make sure it could be explained to younger students.


I don’t think google is making us stupid

Below is my response to “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” By NICHOLAS CARR


First of all, this was an extremely long post from someone who said that people generally don’t like reading things more than 3-4 paragraphs. I was half expecting to get to the end and have him say something about how “if you actually read this whole post you have proven me wrong” or something like that. I even skipped down to see if there was anything in that last paragraph but there wasn’t, so I actually read the whole thing. And it was painful…so I guess he kind of did prove that point. Maybe it’s just because I am extremely tired and it’s been a long week already (yes I know it’s only Tuesday) and also probably because I am already late on writing my blog, but I really did not understand why the author would write such a long post about how people have a short attention span because of the internet. Truly the only thing I can think of is that he is trying to show that this is true, but honestly if it is true most people probably wouldn’t read this post, I know I wouldn’t if I didn’t have to for this class.

Now back to the title of the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” I would say no it is not. While I agree that the internet may be creating a culture where we prefer to get our news in little snippets rather than lengthy stories, I don’t think that makes us any less smart, if anything it makes us more efficient. Now that being said, I grew up having google at my fingertips so maybe that makes me bias, but I feel like google is actually just another tool that can help you learn. I will say that students now a days don’t have to rely on memorizing everything that they have ever learn in school. Most basic facts can be looked up online so if you forgot something you learned in the previous year then you don’t necessary have to go back and sort through all your old notes, you can just go online and find what you are looking for, which I don’t see as a bad thing. I can’t see myself being in an emergency situation where I need to know the solubility product of Calcium Carbonate and can’t look it up. Now maybe this isn’t the case in a field such as medicine where you have a patient right in front of you that you need to treat right away but for me I don’t see why I need to waste my time memorizing information that I can easily look up. Instead it is more important for me to spend time understanding the fundamentals of chemistry and how to use the constants that I can just look up. As with everything, there are some downsides to google, (1) you need to make sure the source you are using is accurate and reliable, (2) there is definitely opportunities for students to miss use this resources, for example looking up solutions to homework problems and not actually working through them on their own.

I agree with Larry Sanger’s response to this article, I especially liked this quote at the end “to pretend that you can blame others (programmers, no less!) for your unwillingness to think long and hard is only a sign of how the problem itself resides within you. It is ultimately a problem of will, a failure to choose to think. If that is a problem of yours, you have no one to blame for it but yourself.”