Teaching Philosophy

We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The purpose of education is not rouge memorization of concepts and terms, but broadening your mind to have the ability to solve complex problems in the real world. Students are regularly told if you study hard and listen you will be successful, while I was a subject of this practice I can in no way endorse it. The path to success hinges on studying hard, there is no doubt about that, however asking questions, and challenging the conventional practices produces students that are assertive leaders, not complacent workers.

Practicing human factors engineering having been traditionally schooled in civil engineering has taught me about the value of multidisciplinary education. Learning about the function of the human brain and the psychological influences of the human condition within a system then applying it to a transportation system was fascinating. Considering the outcome of improper design and how it impacts the user has made me a better engineer.

I have a desire for my students to leave my course with a malleable mind. I don’t want them to think there is one solution to every problem, because with humans, that will hardly be the case. They should be able to think through problems on their own, but also realize the value of coming together with a multi-disciplinary group to discuss solutions. These environments invite multiple ways to solve problems posed by real world issues and teach students the value of collaboration and bipartisan practice.

I also want them to become professionals of strong moral character, as well as good people with integrity and high ethical standards. I intend to teach sections on ethics and expert witnessing through mock trials, something many engineers have the privilege of experiencing but few have the privilege of doing well. I would like my students to learn the value of ethics as well as the penalties for being unethical. Exploring the historical realm of engineering ethics will make the development from past to present more relevant to students. Engineers are supposed to be ethical, and have had this requirement for a long time. A Historical Preface to Engineering Ethics by Michael Davis [1] offers a lot of information on the subject and will be essential in this section of the course. The goal is that students leave with a concrete understanding of why engineers are supposed to be ethical and the time-honored tradition of ethics within our field.

Creating an inclusive environment is something that is very important to me as an instructor. It is important to acknowledge that there are people of varying backgrounds all working toward the same goal, and there is non-uniformity in their home lives. There may be non-traditional students who have a job to support their family and can’t attend all of the sessions, or can’t make it to out of class group meetings. In such cases it is important as the instructor to be flexible when your student’s schedule cannot be. Part of being inclusive also involves considering the needs of students from different religious backgrounds, the United States government celebrates particular religious (mostly Christian) holidays, but that should not bar instructors from including other holidays on their syllabus.

Instructors should be flexible. Not all students are the same. Some are great at taking tests, others not so much. It is important to take that into account. I would be open to allowing students to break down their grade percentages (within reason) between tests and exams, or allowing students the option of a final exam or a final project. The ultimate goal is that the students learn something of value and that they are interested and engaged in the course material. I feel that providing them with options for assessment that play to their strengths will reduce the level of anxiety associated with the course so that they can focus on learning the material and less on the assessment.

Students learn best by having fun, being excited to come to class, and being engaged in the course material. As a professor it is my goal to make my class the type of course that students want to go to. When I was in the eighth grade, we had a math teacher who was warm and bubbly, and who would spontaneously sing opera in her class (she was a trained opera singer with the Delaware State Opera). Mrs. Shute’s class was the class everyone wanted to be in, when students would become disengaged or unruly– they would be struck seemingly out of nowhere with a crescendo into something from Carmen or the Phantom of the Opera and everyone would snap back into focus. I can’t sing, and in the spirit of fostering an environment where students feel safe and comfortable, I will not try. Fortunately, college age students are not quite as unruly as eighth graders. My way of subtly bringing attention back to the lecture will likely involve weaving some form of dry humor into the material. College age students, particularly engineers have an ear for those sorts of things.

Teachers are not bucket fillers or factory supervisors. They are not the holder of all knowledge. They are simply the guide from point A to point B. They are here to assist students along their journey to enlightenment when assistance is required. Teachers are every bit as likely to have their horizon’s expanded by the students as the converse. I hope for my students to view me as a mentor and friend and not as a figure of authority or someone that they have to be afraid of, I want my students to feel like I respect them. I want them to feel like we’re hanging out and having discussions every week.

References
1. Davis, Michael, An historical preface to engineering ethics. Science and Engineering Ethics, 1995. 1(1): p. 33-48.

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