Gas station without pumps

2014 January 14

Designing courses to teach design

Next week, I have to give a lightning talk that boils down my thoughts on the circuits course (202 posts) and the freshman design course (17 posts so far) to five minutes, without slides (maybe I’ll make one slide, with URLs for the course web pages and the blog posts). This is for a university faculty workshop being put on by the Academic Senate: “So you think your lecture course is better than a MOOC?” Friday, January 24th at 3:30 p.m. in the Stevenson Event Center.

I was going to spend this afternoon trying to come up with a catchy title for tomorrow’s deadline, but they moved up the deadline at the last minute, so I had to go with a rather clunky working title “Designing courses to teach design”.  When they announced it, they made it even clunkier: “Designing a course to teach design”, since they didn’t realize I had 2 courses to talk about, I guess.  (I checked—they changed it, I didn’t send it wrong.)

Note: I might get 10 minutes instead of 5 minutes, since they got only 6 speakers, not 10—I’ll have to check on that.  The speakers seem to be 1 from Physical and Biological Sciences, 1 from Social Sciences, 3 from Humanities, and one from Engineering:

  • Susan Strome – “Bringing Biological Concepts to Life”
  • Bruce Bridgeman – “Physiology vs. experience: Do you see what’s on your retina?”
  • Jorge Hankamer – “A very interactive course”
  • Dan Selden – “Teaching and Transference”
  • Kevin Karplus – “Designing Courses to Teach Design”
  • Kirsten Silva Gruesz – “Leading with Reading”

There don’t seem to be any speakers from Art.  Too bad, as I think that the Art faculty may have the most to say about how their courses can’t be MOOCified—maybe they just regard it as so obvious that there is nothing to say.

This post is my attempt to figure out what the key points are.  It is more in the nature of notes than a finished blog post, but I want to get it out, so that (1) I’m forced to think in concrete and not just vague ways about the talk and (2) those who have read some of my blog posts can give me suggestions on what they would like to hear in such a short talk.

  • What were the problems I was trying to solve with the courses?
    1. Insufficient design practice for bioengineers, particularly in biomolecular concentration.  They were getting to the senior projects never having designed anything.
    2. Imbalance between different concentrations (too many in biomolecular, not enough in bioelectronics and “rehabilitation”).
    3. Too many preparatory courses before doing any engineering
  • What constraints?
    1. No additions to number of required courses.
    2. No resources for new lab equipment, lab spaces, or TAs (so no wet lab design).
    3. I’d have to teach it myself (so no wet-lab design).
  • Partial solution 1: replace EE circuits course with an applied circuits course.
    1. Although I’ve never taken a circuits course, I’ve taught myself enough to be able to teach applied electronics.
    2. Existing circuits course is math course, preparing students to take design courses later, and is not suitable as a terminal course, which is how most bioengineers were getting it.  Bioelectronics concentration still requires EE circuits course.
    3. Purpose of requiring electronics is so that students could interface sensors to computers—so that is the focus of the applied circuits course.
    4. Labs were designed first—what did I want the students to design?  Only afterwards were the EE concepts filled in to support those design tasks.
    5. I tested each lab repeatedly at home, to make sure I knew how to make the design work and what parts were likely to cause trouble.  Several initial lab designs were rejected as being too hard (and some for being too easy).
    6. Course was prototyped as a “Group Tutorial” before finalizing the course description for CEP approval.  Prototyping lead to changing the lab/lecture ratio: there are now 6 hours a week of labs and 3.5 of lecture (instead of 3 and 3.5).  With 2 lab sections this spring, I’ll have 15.5 contact hours a week (not counting office hours).
  • Partial solution 2: Freshman design seminar
    1. Freshman course—no prereqs, so students have few shared skills.
    2. Not part of curriculum, so only 2-unit “overload” course (60 hours for course, including 22 hours for class)
    3. Lots of in-class work, both as individuals and in groups.  Group work to share skills, individual work to avoid “freeloading”.
    4. Couldn’t design labs ahead of time (didn’t know specific skills and interests of students).  Tried out several ideas anyway.
    5. Course being prototyped now as “Group Tutorial”.
    6. Need to teach design concepts explicitly:
      • Design Goals
      • Constraints on design
      • Dividing problem into subproblems (systems thinking)
      • Iterative design (modifying goals and constraints)
  • Partial solution 3: complete overhaul of bioengineering curriculum
    1. Constrained by “creeping prerequistism”—all departments increasing the prereqs
    2. removing big swathes of science to make room for engineering
    3. Different science removed for the different concentrations

I think those are enough (probably too many) concepts for a 10-minute talk. I’ll probably have to cut to make it a 5-minute talk.

Readers: what concepts would you most want to hear about?  What essentials have I omitted? What fluff have I included?

1 Comment »

  1. […] better than a MOOC?” Friday, January 24th at 3:30 p.m. in the Stevenson Event Center.  I posted some notes for the talk last week.  Here is my current draft of the text—please give me some suggestions in the comments […]

    Pingback by Designing courses to teach design—draft 2 | Gas station without pumps — 2014 January 21 @ 21:22 | Reply

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