Chemistry students working in lab

Sometimes the introduction of new technologies has unexpected consequences.

The arrival of MOOCs (massive open online courses), for instance, served as a spark that helped many campuses refocus attention on the nature of public universities and how they can best serve their students. 

“The College of Engineering has always focused attention on teaching,” says Keri Hornbuckle, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Associate Dean for Academic Programs. “But discussions about MOOCs helped us look even more closely at what we have to offer, who we are, and what we want students’ educational experiences to be.”

The renewed attention to teaching and learning inspired Hornbuckle to launch a series of teaching workshops and demonstrations that highlight the innovative teaching strategies implemented by engineering faculty and lecturers. Since the series began in fall 2012, engineering faculty members and lecturers have presented on the challenges and successes of “flipping” course content, leveraging TILE classroom technologies, assigning online textbook and assignment platforms, and designing and teaching online summer courses.

“Faculty members love the opportunity to think hard and talk about teaching,” Hornbuckle says, “and to share what they’ve done in designing, delivering, and assessing new approaches. Many of our instructors do very creative things in their classes, but if we don’t provide a forum for sharing these efforts, they can get lost among all the other things faculty members do.”

The Dean’s Office sponsors the popular events, which include a catered lunch. With a nod to the College’s longtime motto, the Lecture series is called, “Engineering (Lecture) and Something More.” For particular topics, Hornbuckle has invited faculty members from other colleges to present or attend.

“We had a great discussion about an online summer course Mike Hero [lecturer in the Department of Mathematics] talked about,” Hornbuckle says. “Four or five Math professors attended and it was great.  Even fun.”

Hornbuckle tries to allay the concerns of engineering instructors who may hesitate to “take the plunge” and try new pedagogies or teaching technologies for fear it may affect student evaluations, and tenure and promotion decisions. 

“We tell them, ‘Try, just try. If it doesn’t work, it’s OK.’” 

She adds that the series—offered every third semester—has encouraged faculty members to talk more broadly about the profession.

“We’re all interested in the profession of being a professor,” she says. “But it’s a difficult, complex role for which, in some ways, people are not prepared as graduate students. It’s a peculiar path to being a professor—the teaching aspect of it, at least—so it’s important that we support people who want to be better at pursuing this passion. Important for the faculty and for their students.”