[EAS] Effective Old-Fashioned Teaching

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Fri Feb 17 18:17:19 EST 2006

[My apologies for the resend in aid of getting the message archived properly as
<http://jove.eng.yale.edu/pipermail/eas-info/2006/000805.html>.  --PJK]

Dear Colleagues -

This resonated with me because I'm only a year short of 40 years of 
teaching and recognize many of my own past practices among Prof. 
Hummel's points. So, I am sure, will many of my senior Yale 

Some more specific comments from my own teaching follow at the end of 
the piece.

All best,  --PJK

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>Date: Thu, 16 Feb 2006 16:04:34 -0800
>To: tomorrows-professor at lists.Stanford.EDU
>From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
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>"Dave felt that I surely had a few words to say about my past
>experiences that would be of help to new professors. Further, he
>suggested that I could possibly comment on some of the new teaching
>methods that are currently discussed and occasionally even
>implemented. I am glad to comply with his request even though I have
>to admit that I practice no spectacular new techniques. But my
>students like what I have been doing as expressed in numerous
>enthusiastic teacher evaluations. What I do is simply the following:"
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>The posting below give some simple and important suggestions for all
>of us to keep in mind when giving a class lecture.  It is by
>Professor Rolf E. Hummel at the University of Florida, Gainesville,
>and is now required reading for all new professors at the University
>of Florida.  The article first appeared in the University of Florida,
>"Pedagogator," Vol. 3, Issue 13, July/Aug 2005.  Reprinted with
>permission. Further suggestions for effective teaching can be found
>at the Pedagogator website:
>Rick Reis
>reis at stanford.edu
>UP NEXT: Is There a Global Warming Toward Women in Academia?
>			Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning
>	            ------------------------------ 1,549 words
>By Professor Rolf E. Hummel
>University of Florida - College of Engineering (Dept. of Material
>Science & Engineering)
>The other day I ran into my good old friend David Bloomquist. He told
>me during our curb-side chat that is now the director of the
>"University Center for Excellence in Teaching". Eventually, after
>having shown me his spacious office, he handed me a coffee mug and an
>executive ballpoint pen, both with the insignia of the Center. Then,
>after having "bribed" me this way, Dave asked me to please write a
>contribution for his newsletter "The Pedagogator" because he knew
>that I had been graced so far with 12 teaching awards (among them the
>university-wide teacher of the year, the Florida Blue Key teaching
>award, several college of engineering awards, and the TIP
>award-twice). Dave felt that I surely had a few words to say about my
>past experiences that would be of help to new professors. Further, he
>suggested that I could possibly comment on some of the new teaching
>methods that are currently discussed and occasionally even
>implemented. I am glad to comply with his request even though I have
>to admit that I practice no spectacular new techniques. But my
>students like what I have been doing as expressed in numerous
>enthusiastic teacher evaluations. What I do is simply the following:
>1) I prepare at least one hour per period for classes which I have
>given before and about 5-7 hours for each new class. This preparation
>allows me to teach without reading from or referring to notes.
>2) I arrive in the classroom at the right time, or even a few minutes
>earlier to have the chance to chat with my students or answer any
>questions they may have.
>3) I start my class with a one or two minute review of the previous lecture.
>4) I am a great supporter of the old fashioned blackboard. The larger
>it is, the better. I write as much as possible on this board, and
>highlight important parts with colored chalk and/or put a box around
>important equations. (I do not like so much the new whiteboards
>because one has to always remember to cap the markers before they dry
>out. And those markers available in the lecture room often do not
>work anyway, so you have to bring your own.
>5) I start at the upper, left-hand corner of the blackboard. I do not
>erase anything during the entire hour. At the end of the lecture I
>have reached the lower, right-hand corner of the blackboard.
>Admittedly, this takes some advanced planning and practice, but can
>be eventually accomplished by everybody.
>6) I attempt to write large and legibly enough so that my
>"hieroglyphics" can be read from the last row. After class I often
>walk to the back of the lecture room to see if I succeeded in doing
>7) During the last three minutes of the lecture I repeat briefly what
>was discussed that day by showing with a pointer the relevant graphs
>or equations on the board and mention how they were arrived at. This
>lets the students see the larger context in which the individual
>steps have been developed.
>8) I attempt not to block the blackboard with my body so that
>virtually everybody can see what is written on the board; at least
>most of the time. This is accomplished by stepping aside after
>9) When drawing a graph on the board, I carefully label the axes by
>saying what they represent and describe a curve while drawing it. If
>there is more than one curve in a given graph, I distinguish them
>with different colors and write on each curve what parameters they
>10) To each class I bring a bunch of "show-and-tell" items, such as a
>transformer, a computer chip, a computer hard drive, a laser tube, a
>silicon crystal, several magnets, a transistor, a shape memory alloy
>etc., so that students have hands-on experience of the subjects I am
>talking about. Occasionally, I show movies that depict manufacturing
>processes of what was explained before in theory.
>11) I encourage questions during class and answer them in a
>respectful manner (even the supposedly 'stupid questions'). If I do
>not know the answer immediately, I admit so (which makes a student
>feel good) and promise to answer it next time.
>12) I feel that overloading the students with information during
>class does not serve them properly. Often less information, but that
>in more depth, is pedagogically better. After all, the students can
>learn supplemental information from their textbooks.
>13) I am a supporter of the Monday/Wednesday/Friday rhythm rather
>than the two or three hour-long lecture on one day. Students need
>digestion between lectures and catching up with their homework.
>14) I try to speak loud and distinctly so that everybody should be
>able to hear and understand me. I aim my voice toward the last
>student row. Foreign students particularly appreciate this.
>15) I address my students by looking at them during the lecture, that
>is, I keep eye contact. This way I can see if some students drift
>away, requiring me to change the pace.
>16) I take a class picture during one of the first lectures and ask
>the students to write their names next to their image. This gives me
>the chance to memorize their names and to address them with their
>names during lectures and in my office. (I admit memorizing names
>becomes increasingly difficult with age).
>17) Student like my "war stories," that is, practical examples in
>which the subjects just taught have been used (or not been used with
>negative consequences). This loosens up the flow of information and
>demonstrates the relevance of the often theoretical-appearing
>subjects. In other words, a proper balance between theory and
>practical aspects needs to be maintained.
>18) I am not a friend of projected transparencies because they are
>frequently removed before the students are capable of fully
>comprehending what they want to teach. Still, occasionally even I use
>overhead projectors when putting the respective information on the
>board would require too much time or when the students have the same
>graph in their textbook and I need to point out certain details on
>the image. Flashing slides in five second intervals on a screen turns
>students quickly away from paying attention. In other words, each
>transparency needs to stay on the screen long enough so that all
>details they contain can be fully explained and understood. On the
>same line, I am not a friend of PowerPoint presentations in the
>classroom. They have their merit in seminars and conferences where a
>substantial amount of information needs to be transmitted in a
>relatively short time.
>19) Before an exam, I hand out tests from previous years, whose
>answers we discuss in the class immediately before the upcoming
>midterm or final.
>20) I allow my students to prepare for the test a one-page,
>hand-written, personal "crib sheet" on which they may write all the
>equations and graphs they consider to be important. They have to
>turn-in this sheet along with their tests. This promotes academic
>honesty and gives those students some confidence who otherwise "draw
>a complete blank" during tests. Interestingly enough, most students
>admit that once they have written a crib sheet they don't need it any
>more during the test since they are now well prepared for the exam
>and they feel confident that they can turn to their sheet when need
>arises. Needless to say, my tests do not allow mere regurgitation of
>crammed information, but usually require some thinking. For this
>reason, my exams are often labeled as "difficult," ("because asking a
>student to think is unfair").
>21) Most of all, however, I consider my students to be my friends. I
>am kind to them and am available most of the time for questions and
>for airing concerns. My door is virtually always open. I teach all
>classes myself, I write the tests and grade them myself and use
>teaching assistants only for looking over the homework, which I
>assign, (because one can only learn by "doing" and not so much by
>just listening). As a former student once wrote in retrospect: "Dr.
>Hummel does not only teach class, he adopts it."
>In summary, I love teaching and showing my enthusiasm about the
>subject matter. This spark flies over to my students and makes them
>enthusiastic too.
>These points may sound, for some readers, old-fashioned. So be it.
>But why should we abandon techniques that have been proven to be
>successful over many decades? I feel that we should use whatever
>produces the best educational results. For some instructors, the
>impersonal PowerPoint presentation, etc., works. For others it is the
>personally addressed, spoken word that reaches the minds and souls of
>the students.
>Most importantly however: It is often said that classroom teaching at
>university does not help a professor in obtaining tenure and
>promotion. What really counts is research money and publications.
>Those colleagues and administrators who think like this should keep
>in mind that the future of or nation depends strongly on what and how
>we are educating the younger generation.
>Having this in mind, I strongly feel that proper, compassionate and
>enthusiastic teaching (in the classroom and the research lab) is the
>most important mission of a university.
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A few more comments from me, referencing Prof. Hummel's item numbers:

(4)-(6)  I feel much the same way. By having lots of board space and 
minimizing erasing, I can immediately go back to an earlier point as 
needed when a student has a question. And if I haven't covered the 
board too densely, I can even make the argument a different way right 
next to the earlier writing and avoid saying the same thing again, 
which itself is a kind of confrontation to avoid.

(7) I sometimes give a one-minute quizz, asking the students to write 
down (anonymously) the most memorable point I made, and the most 
obscure or impenetrable. The statistics of both are interesting, and 
provide an good start to the next lecture in the spirit of (3).

(11)  This is important even in the genteel situation described by 
Prof. Hummel, but crucial if you "screw up." Students quickly develop 
contempt -- here I draw on my student meetings as Director of 
Undergraduate Studies -- for instructors who make mistakes, get 
confused, and then do _not_ remediate next time. Once when I was 
really in trouble at the board, I mumbled, while still looking to see 
where I had gone wrong "This must happen to some of your other 
instructors." and an unknown student's voice replied "yes, but they 
cover it up better." Embarrassed though I felt, it had never occurred 
to me to cover it up. Next time, I gave them a written handout by way 
of clarification. This saves time, especially since equations or 
schematics are likely to be at issue.

(16)  The picture gallery available though our <classes> server 
avoids the need for taking your own picture. Students appreciate it 
if one shows interest in them personally by learning their names 
quickly, fairly easy in our generally small classes. And some 
"shoppers" are more likely to stay. More importantly, this personal 
approach does not make it strange when I then send email to a student 
whom I don't see in a given lecture and ask why. They then know that 
I care, I notice and subsequently they generally give me advance 
notice if illness or an interview keep them away. This way I have had 
nearly perfect attendance most of the time. Nationally, class 
attendance is often not much better than 60-70% these days, and often 
much less when lecture notes/slides are posted on the Web. This 
personal approach doesn't scale readily, but certainly works for Yale 
Engineering classes.

(17)  In this regard I have of course been particularly fortunate and 
well equipped by my consulting as an adjunct. There is hardly a 
circuit or instrument that I have taught about with which I have not 
had first-hand experience in an industrial setting. Sometimes major 
problems involved simple circuit issues. And it's nice to be able to 
describe a feedback loop stabilization involving a 400kW inverter 
where, when the loop went unstable, I could feel the vibrations of 
the filter inductors two stories below me in a heavy concrete 
building. One doesn't have to say things that could embarrass a 
consulting client. Being able to speak from direct experience is 
obvious pretty quickly.

(21) I do not spend time in my office so consistently that I can 
follow Prof. Hummel's open door approach. My "open door" has been 
email, fairly promptly responded to.
I should also mention that more than occasionally I sent the entire 
class emails (also easy to do via the <classes> server) when I felt a 
given lecture just didn't "connect," or when I wanted to make points 
that I needed more time to think through.
If you've got the time, a couple of such emails follow below, from an 
EENG226b "Introduction to Electrical Engineering" version I taught in 
Spring 2005. During a given semester I might send 200 emails, both to 
individual students or to the whole class, of which maybe 5-10% are 
as 'weighty' as the ones that follow below.

Two samples of emails to my EENG226b class:
Date: 1/27/05 10:46 PM
To: EENG226b Class
From: pjk
Subject: Problem set thinking

Dear Class -

While I still have this week's lectures and homework discussion
sessions freshly in mind, and while you are finishing the current
HW#2, I would like to engage your thinking about the next homework,
and homeworks to come.

Many of you have expressed your dismay about how the present
homework was much more difficult than #1. In part this is because
the HW#2 problems are closer to being engineering problems, rather
than "plug and play" template matching problems all too typical of
text books.

E.g. take a problem like S&W P3.7 about measuring the internal
resistance of the meter. This is a real miniature engineering
problem. You need to devise a method, not just plug values into an
equation you find in the chapter. The chapters do contain material
to work with, but not the template for the solution itself.

This is hard, but it is what engineering is about. As freshmen you
may never have had a course that emphasizes such thinking. It takes
time that you will have only if you start on such problems early,
with a "first pass," days before they are due, so that you can mull
them over in your mind for a while.

The most important take-away from an "Introduction to Electrical
Engineering" is an introduction to engineering _thinking_, not
formula "crank turning." In fact, I believe it is the
_responsibility_ of an introductory course in any subject to give
you an initial exposure to how the practitioners of that subject
think, how they pose problems, how they approach solutions, what
they consider their most valuable tools.

That is why I don't give you problems like E3.4(h) because they have
little redeeming "engineering thinking" value. I have a written-out
solution of which I can give you a copy. It it mostly just
complicated, does not teach you any new way to think. In 50 years of
working with electronics I have never had to solve this problem in
any working context.

That's why problems like P3.7 are so much more valuable. And why S&W
is a better introduction to EE than a lot of more recent texts.

The next assignment will contain some more "thinking" problems. I
firmly believe you have a "thinking" mind capable of doing them.
You're just startled and discomfited by the different demands of
this type of problem. You are not used to being initially "stopped
in your tracks."

Mindful of the difficulty they pose you, I will have fewer problems
in the next assignment (which I expect to post sometime tomorrow on
the usual <http://www.eng.yale.edu/ee-labs/morse/courses/ee226/>).

I will be happy to work with you _at length_, in individual meetings
and in the Tuesday eve. and Wednesday pm review sessions. But you
must give these engineering problems enough of your own time also.
Speculate, experiment, try different approaches. Above all, accept
the need to approach these problems differently from looking for the
right formula, and, failing to find it, panic. It is not that you
can't do the problem, it is that you are not using the right part of
your mind.

I am always happy to have your feedback on all these issues.

All best,  --pjk

Date: 1/30/05 5:08 PM
To: EENG226b Class
From: pjk
Subject: Working Knowledge

Dear Class -

Let me share with you comments I made in recent correspondence with
one of your class mates, about being in a quandary about Senturia
and Wedlock (S&W) material and home work problems. I wrote (here
mildly edited):

>  I believe there are at least two "layers," with both of which I will
>  do my best to help. The first is the "style" (for lack of a better
>  word) with which you approach problems. The second is the standard
>  for "understanding" you set yourself. We should talk a little about
>  both.
>  Regarding the first, you can tell me about courses that work well
>  for you, and the kind of problems you solve there. Regarding the
>  second, I am not going to justify expediency, but want to suggest
>  how even after one does a given problem, it may take going further
>  along in the material before, in retrospect, one feels more
>  confident that one understands it. I.e. the issue is how
>  (un)comfortable does one feel with one's command of a topic in the
>  initial instance, as opposed to later when it has had a chance to
>  sink in a little more.
>  Engineers, I think, are good at being "temporarily expedient" in
>  getting a problem solved, often being under time pressure to do so.
>  For the honest engineer the realization of intellectual honesty
>  comes, as it should, with some delay, as the solution "sinks in"
>  deeper into their working awareness. Another way some authors put it
>  is that we are talking about the acquisition of "working knowledge"
>  as opposed to theoretical knowledge. The problems in S&W tend to
>  lean towards working knowledge. The implications of that are that
>  their problems can be challenging in unexpected ways, very different
>  from other text books. I would in fact go so far as to say that
>  current text books aim more at short-term gratification, complex
>  though it may be, while older books like S&W are challenging their
>  readers to acquire working knowledge, by using problems that look
>  simple but can be surprisingly difficult.
>  One of my proudest moments as a consultant was years ago, when one
>  of my clients had paid a lot of money to McKinsey, the famous
>  management consultants, to "x-ray" their company's problems and
>  write them a report. But my client couldn't figure out on the basis
>  of that report how best to implement solutions, to solve their
>  problems. They hired me and I helped them with the slower
>  accumulation of 'working knowledge' that helped make things happen
>  more constructively. That was some 20 years ago, and I'm sure
>  McKinsey has gotten much better at helping with implementation, but
>  it is a dichotomy still very much with us in one form or another,
>  including the approach to courses and textbooks.
>  In an engineering curriculum one can have courses that you do well
>  in, and then get totally stumped with situations in a later course
>  taught from a different viewpoint. The acquisition of knowledge in a
>  working form usually proves the better investment in learning for
>  the future, though it may be a little more stressful at the time.
>  I am not trying to plot a course in psychoanalysis, but am trying to
>  enlarge your view of the situation so that perhaps you feel less
>  boxed in. And these are, of course, issues we can always talk about,
>  individually and in our group meetings.

All best,  --pjk

P.S.: I will be posting meeting slots at my Web scheduler by late

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