What’s your process for creating instructional goals?
I think in the end, the process is the same. For example take our numerical algorithms class. I want you to be able to leave being able to do a series of things. I always think about what you will need for future courses, graduate school or work. So basically in a broader sense It’s about what skills or what material I want you to have encountered by the time you leave the course. That breaks down into the goals that I have for each individual class. It’s a little difficult I’ve found with having goals for a specific class since it’s difficult to gauge exactly how far along I will get in each lesson due to student’s concerns and questions.
How do you design a syllabus?
After you have planned and looked at your main goals you make a time grid for how many weeks and how many classes per week and then try to fit that material into the time grid, that’s quite literally what happens. And then with regards to what the syllabus is actually made up of besides class material, I look at what assignments will help my students achieve these goals. It’s so much easier coming into it a second time because you have an idea of the questions that students will ask and you can plan around that as well.
So it really depends on the students as well?
Yes that’s it and the other thing too is that, and I’m sure you’ve heard this adage before, you never really learn the material until you have to teach it. So I think that as I present material more than once, I get better and more confident. You get better at handling mistakes and you make less of them.
What activities and tools do you find work or don’t work in class?
It really depends on the class. I think that when instructions aren’t clear then it just doesn’t work. Over time you can also think about how to make instructions more clear. It’s difficult because when you already know what you are doing its hard to figure out how much information you need to relay to someone who is a novice at that process. When I first taught Linear Algebra and introduced students to Matlab, they complained and said that it was a little confusing to use. SInce then I’ve been sure to give tutorials on the software to make it easy to understand and it always changes from year to year. You’re always modifying the course to account for this.
I know that the two big softwares here are Matlab and Mathematica. So how did you arrive at the use of Matlab as opposed to Mathematica?
Well really two reasons. One being that it’s based off my background; I’ve done a lot of work in Matlab. The other reason is that it’s based off of feedback from students who have graduated. They tell me that using Matlab and having classes with it would be helpful because that is what they are needing now. We’ve always had this Numerical Algorithms course but it had not been taught for several years. There wasn’t really a demand for it from students. When I came all of these things worked out sort of and I was able to offer it once and it was well received so then we made it a regular part of the curriculum.
Which activities and projects elicit intended outcomes as the “best”?
I think, and again I’m thinking about your 316 course, that working on challenging problem sets for homework produces the best outcomes. These assignments are tailored to help students become more comfortable with what they’re struggling with over time. Just having the experience in working with these problems and with the computer, I think, is the best way. And this is true in any class I teach as well. I always give out a lot of homework assignments to help students gain more experience.
How do you measure success and performance in class?
I think that if you have learned something in the class then it was a success. Just because a student doesn’t get an A in the class doesn’t mean that I think they haven’t been successful, and I hope that they don’t think so either. I get more satisfaction in observing someone who has really wrestled with the material and has really had to put forth that effort. The grades don’t always tell the full story.
How do course evaluations influence your approach for future classes?
Evaluations can be tricky because often times students won’t understand the reason for or way in which they should answer the questions. It’s most helpful when students are very specific about what they liked and if there is something that they didn’t like then they should offer a suggestion or a change. They definitely have helped me in planning the next course. It’s nice to see that the more times I’ve taught a course, the course evaluations have improved as well.
I found it interesting how Rachel actually followed the ADDIE model to an extent. She mentioned that the Numerical Algorithms course was always offered but there was not a high demand for it. So when she came, she analyzed the need for the course and decided to offer it. She then had to design the course and course syllabus. She did so by planning a series of main goals. This then went along with the development of the course as she had to decide what assignments should go along with the course material to help her reach those goals. She also decided on what technology she would implement to help her students now and in the future (in this case, the software Matlab). The time for implementation then came as she taught the course for the first time. She found it difficult the first time because you don’t know what kind of questions the students will ask or how comfortable with the material they will be for the first time it is being taught. Once the second time came around she was able to account for similar questions and was able to gauge more accurately how the class was doing with the material. The course evaluations play a large part in this because through those evaluations she is able to see what works and doesn’t work in the class and can adjust for the next time. This process repeated and she is now on her third time teaching the course and has been able to get it to be quite structured.