A Moment with the Dean

February 03, 2016

Something a first-year faculty hire said made me think about the fact that Cal Poly prizes teaching as the foremost institutional endeavor. The faculty member wrote:

“My passions led me to apply to my current position. I felt that Cal Poly’s emphasis on teaching was second to none, and that I would have the opportunity to really work with and get to know my students.”

Indeed, teaching is not only valued at Cal Poly, but promoted through awards and peer reviews. The Cal Poly Center for Teaching, Learning & Technology (CTLT) offers resources and workshops. Additionally, many engineering faculty members participate in American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) conferences. I am proud that so many of our faculty are active in innovating and advancing pedagogy.

Our last batch of faculty awards were presented in December. I hope you’ll take a moment to read about these outstanding teachers (see https://engineering.calpoly.edu/news/cal-poly-engineering-announces-faculty-and-staff-awards/). It’s notable that we have a couple new awards: Last year, donors Don and Paula Heye established an endowment to provide awards for club advising and teaching excellence. The Don & Paula Heye Award for Outstanding Teaching alone drew 45 nominations, indicating that faculty appreciate outstanding teaching by their colleagues.

I’m not sure it’s widely understood outside of academia that professors don’t simply stroll into class and recite a lecture. The profession requires a rigorous intellectual investment to develop practices that are relevant and powerful for students today. They create and manage environments that encourage learning.

And our faculty are making that investment! In 2014-15, engineering faculty from every single department spent a combined total of 1040 hours involved in teaching development activities sponsored by CTLT. They attended workshops, participated in learning communities to develop new understandings about student learning, presented instructional innovation showcases, and more. CTLT Director Patrick O’Sullivan notes that engineering faculty contribute a great deal to the culture of teaching at Cal Poly. “They spend the time to keep learning and to also collaborate with colleagues across campus,” he said.

Engineering faculty members are also undertaking scholarly work on teaching. Steffen Peuker in Mechanical Engineering, for instance, is focusing on innovative approaches for first-year engineering courses to increase student retention and success. Not only has his work earned him Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing Scholar Award, but the National Academy of Engineering selected him for the prestigious Frontiers of Engineering Education symposium. Dr. Peuker is presenting workshops on his teaching research at the ASEE regional and national conferences.

Bridget Benson (Electrical Engineering) and Brian Self (Mechanical Engineering) also provide examples of how engineering faculty are engaged in developing new instructional strategies. Dr. Benson is currently working on curriculum for a “flipped classroom” version of our computer design and assembly language programming class. Flipped classrooms deliver instructional content outside of the classroom so that the in-class time is dedicated to the students direct engagement with concepts as guided by the instructor. She also authored a summer online course in digital design that earned the California State University Quality Online Course Award.

Brian Self, meanwhile, is known for his work on service learning. Both he and mechanical engineering colleague Jim Widmann recently obtained funding from the National Science Foundation to develop inquiry-based learning activities to boost student success in understanding the principles of dynamics, a difficult, yet required course for most engineering disciplines.

The work done by these professors — and so many others — not only improve student learning at Cal Poly, but also raise the bar of effective teaching across the nation. I couldn’t agree more with that new professor that Cal Poly’s teaching is second to none.


Photo: From left, Professors Steffen Peuker, Bridget Benson and Brian Self with Dean Debra Larson


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