Statement on Teaching Philosophy in Civil Engineering Courses

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“I believe in constant improvement, driven by evidence and feedback”.

My perspective on teaching has strongly been influenced by my experiences as a project manager of a major construction engineering company. In this position, I was a decision-maker and a consumer of the products supplied by the system that prepares graduate engineers for the profession. I experienced how well products performed and their intended functions. The significance of an education and the problems currently facing engineering education became evident to me each time I was involved in hiring a fresh graduate. I would place great emphasis on selecting the best candidates from the best universities, yet none of these civil engineers were able to generate even the most rudimentary design concept in response to design requirements. When a concept had been developed for them, they could generally do a reasonable job of calculating its response to loads. The blank piece of paper which is the starting point for all civil designs, seemed to pose an insurmountable conceptual barrier. Could it be that these graduates entered practice, not knowing how to design civil structures or processes?

Conversations with my peers in the construction industry revealed that my observations are indicative of a widespread situation. As attested by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), sixty-two percent of employers in Canada say that recent engineering graduates do not have the skills they need. New graduates of civil engineers are expected to be responsible for designing and overseeing the design and construction of all types of residential and commercial buildings. The inability of recent civil engineering graduates to put new ideas on paper is undoubtedly troubling. If we want civil engineers to be good designers, universities and colleges must take engineering designing courses seriously. Examples of civil design courses such as culvert design, computer-aided design (CAD), drafting, drainage plans and reports, earthwork quantities, and erosion control plans must be delivered in teaching methods that will enhance curiosity and creative thinking. Engineering practice, on the other hand, is largely practical, and great reliance is placed on established procedures, specified guidelines, and that indefinable element called engineering judgment. Much importance is attached to the ability to make qualitative judgments, a skill that engineering students are said to lack.

I am pursuing teaching in higher education because I want to help renew the practice of curious and creative teaching methods in civil design courses. A significant component of this initiative is to transform the way we educate civil engineering students to become innovative designers. With all the success in creating new knowledge through research, very few benefits will arise from this knowledge if we do not have engineers who can use their knowledge to create innovative new works of engineering.

When doing experiments in the kitchen to perfect a recipe, or in the laboratory for research, there is always one or more outcomes that we may want to improve. In the area of engineering statistics, we give that outcome a symbol called the ‘Y’ variable. My biggest challenge as an educator in engineering is figuring out what the ‘Y’ variables are. What are the measures of effective teaching in civil engineering? Often our self-assessment of a class is a single imperfect metric even when considering that students need time and experience for concepts to take root. Assessing this accurately, even quantifying it is nebulous, and can be an ongoing challenge. Somehow we have to measure and evaluate it, or how else do we know we did our jobs as teachers? Recently, I have come to realize there is another ‘Y’ variable and I call it the ‘why’ variable. Why should students come to my class? When I prepare my classes, this will be one of the main questions in my mind. The other two are, how can I keep students engaged in my classroom and why should students care about the material I teach?

I want my students to understand the applicability of what I am teaching to help them to be more engaged and to explain where the material is used in the future. I am fortunate to have eight years of working experience and consulting in a variety of construction industries. I will bring in colleagues I have worked with as guest lecturers, to help demonstrate the relevance and applicability of the study material. When students connect the class material with the professional paths that the guest speakers have taken, and the relevancy of the material is applied, then the mental journey to get there will be more focused and exciting. This is a crucial point that I have learned from one of my teachers at the Ryerson Masters in Building Science program. All these strategies will help to answer the philosophical question of why.

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Align the Course with Student Attributes

An emerging emphasis in engineering accreditation in Canada is on outcome-based education. I doubt if this is only a temporary phase from the accreditation agencies. Whether it is or not is principally immaterial. We have to design engineering courses in line with a 40 to 50 years career path. This requires developing communication skills, group work skills, time management expertise and problem-solving skills. Running a classroom where students communicate their answers, work in small active-learning teams, and solve problems meaningfully is part of achieving this goal.

Teaching Engineering Mathematics

The way engineering math is taught is not entirely correct. Mathematics is a way of thinking, not a number-crunching tool. But what is the right way to teach mathematics in core engineering courses? The right way is to make students understand what the numerical problem in engineering is, to help them ask what does it mean and what is its use? What is the pattern here? Not only should students see the reasoning in engineering mathematical questions and solutions, but they should also see a step before and a step after, and possibly a step into the future for the same equation. This is the ‘why’ part? This is how to think about an engineering math pattern by asking the question ‘what is going on’? Although simple, this is a powerful way of thinking in any mathematical engineering scenario because mathematics in engineering should be a tool for increasing one’s thinking power. It also enhances innovation. By studying patterns in math, humans become aware of patterns in our world. Observing patterns allows individuals to develop their ability to predict the future behavior of natural organisms and phenomena. It is my sincere and strong belief to help my students enjoy the learning process. I will promote active, cooperative and creative learning. I respect my students’ cultural and religious values. Therefore, I will place great prominence in acknowledging different styles of learning that exist among students who come from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Measuring Success in My Class

Success has different definitions for different people. In my view, if I have achieved my objectives and fulfilled the mission and vision specified in my philosophy of teaching, I have achieved success. Success also means the achievement of a desirable outcome. When I assess my students’ performance, I will use the techniques described below and I will also observe samples of their behavior, performance, skills, and knowledge.

One Minute Paper and the Half-Sheet Response

A very effective method that I will use in my class to measure success is the One Minute Paper and the Half-Sheet Response adapted from Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross (1993). I will stop my class five minutes early and ask some quick questions about my lesson such as, “Who can tell me the most crucial thing you learned today in my class?”. By doing this, I can collect quick responses from my students either verbally or written on a piece of paper.

Classroom Opinion Poll

When I assess my students, I take the opportunity to assess my own performance as well. I will ask my students to give me feedback in writing anonymously about my lecture content and how it is presented so that I can evaluate myself on an ongoing basis.

Conclusion

To conclude my teaching philosophy, I would like to highlight three areas that I am particularly passionate about. First is offering students flexibility in how they learn. Second is aligning the course with student attributes and the third is teaching engineering mathematics correctly. To begin with, I will make all my class resources freely available on the course websites. Full electronic notes, audio and video recordings of the class, copies of slides and worked solutions to preceding homework, group assignments and midterms. This gives students from different backgrounds and abilities, the resources to still participate, and this helps students who might have to be away from class for a job interview, or other personal or medical reasons. I call this the ‘take-out’ vs. ‘eat-in decision’. A university or college environment is a perfect place for either figuring out time management or failing at it. The consequences here are fairly minor if a student misjudges the need to attend a class.

References

  1. Felder, R., Brent, R., and Stice, J., 'National Effective Teaching Institute: Workshop Materials'. 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2002.
  2. Springer, L., M. Stanne, and S. Donovan, 'Effects of Small-Group Learning on Undergraduates in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology: A Meta-Analysis'. Review of Educational Research, Vol. 69, No. 1, 1999, pp. 21-52.
  3. Wiggins, G., and J. McTighe, 'Understanding by Design'. Merrill Education/ASCD College Textbook Series, ASCD, Alexandria, Virginia, 1998.
  4. Qais, F. (2011). How to Teach Effectively: A Practical Guide. Al-Mehrab e-publisher, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  5. Teaching Philosophy Statements - SlideShare. https://www.slideshare.net/iosrjce/teaching-philosophy-statements
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Statement on Teaching Philosophy in Civil Engineering Courses. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/statement-on-teaching-philosophy-in-civil-engineering-courses/
“Statement on Teaching Philosophy in Civil Engineering Courses.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/statement-on-teaching-philosophy-in-civil-engineering-courses/
Statement on Teaching Philosophy in Civil Engineering Courses. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/statement-on-teaching-philosophy-in-civil-engineering-courses/> [Accessed 21 May 2024].
Statement on Teaching Philosophy in Civil Engineering Courses [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 May 21]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/statement-on-teaching-philosophy-in-civil-engineering-courses/
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