Engage your students: A SYDE Example — Samar Mohamed

Group 2 working with their TA, Justin Eitchel

What is student engagement and how can we achieve it? These questions are always in my mind. Heller et al state that:

 “Faculty stimulate engagement by providing students with active learning experiences, conveying excitement and enthusiasm for their subject, and providing opportunities for student-faculty interactions.  Students show their engagement by participating in class discussions, doing research projects, and interacting with their professors and peers.”

 An example of an engaging engineering course was discussed in a previous blog in which the course instructors used several blended activities to engage the students with their course material.

 Another example on engaging engineering courses is SYDE 411 “Optimization and Numerical Methods”, which is the focus of this blog. I have been working with Prof. Paul Calamai and his teaching team to design and implement engaging blended activities for their students. The designed activities satisfy the previously mentioned criteria by giving the students the opportunity to:

  • interact actively with both their peers and their teaching team
  • do research projects
  • participate in group discussion
  • provide constructive feedback to their peers
  • reflect on their own work

SyDe 411 is a new fourth year core Engineering course with an emphasis on understanding and applying numerical methods and optimization techniques as tools for problem solving and systems design. Students’ engagement with the course material is an important aspect of their learning. In order for them to be actively engaged with the course material, Professor Paul Calamai and his teaching team implemented several blended activities that were designed to keep the students engaged with each week’s topics and eager to learn more about these topics. Group Projects and Group Assignments are two main blended activities in this course:

Group Projects:

Prof. Calamai took the group project beyond the regular boundaries and created an enjoyable learning experience for everyone. The group project activity is summarized as follows:

  • Each group is responsible for a project topic that is worth 25% of the course total grade.
  • Each group researches a specific topic and submits:

o   Lecture notes on the topic including examples of application and/or demonstration.
o   One project topic Problem per group member with their solutions.

  • Groups are paired and dry run presentations between paired groups are conducted to provide the presenting group with feedback and recommendations for improvements.
  • The presenting group’s project is then posted to a discussion board and another group (reviewing group)  reviews it and provides the presenting group with questions and feedback through the discussion board. The presenting group is expected to respond to these questions during it’s presentation.
  • The presenting group delivers a 30 minutes presentation/lecture on it’s specific topic followed by 10 minutes for questions and answers.
  • Peer evaluation is conducted twice during the term among each group’s members using the “Comprehensive Assessment for Team-Member Effectiveness” CATME online tool. Peer evaluation provides the students with feedback regarding their effectiveness as team members throughout the academic term.

Group Assignments:

Prof. Calamai presented an interesting scenario for the group assignments in which the students engage with the material and come to the tutorial prepared and ready for the learning experience. The group assignment activity is summarized as follows:

The class is divided into groups in which each group, under the supervision of the TA, is responsible for solving and presenting their specific group assignment problems. Students are encouraged to prepare excellent solutions because a subset of these questions will contribute to parts of the Midterm and Final exams. Each student in the group prepares a solution to a specific assignment problem according to the following schedule:

  • Individual questions are sent by email to each student in Group X.
  • Each student submits the answer to his specific question/s to a dropbox.
  • Professor Calamai grades and gives personal independent feedback to the students.
  • The students submit a revised version of their answers to a dropbox.
  • After Professor Calamai approves the answers, the TA posts them to a discussion board so that the rest of the class can see them and ask for clarification.
  •  Group X will run the tutorial and facilitate a discussion around their assignment problems.

I think that SYDE 411 teaching team puts a lot of time and effort in providing an exciting and enjoyable learning experience to their students.

1-     R. S. Heller, C. Beil, K. Dam, and B. Haerum “Student and Faculty Perceptions of Engagement in Engineering”, Journal of Engineering Education, July 2010.

Published by

Samar Mohamed

Samar Mohamed is the CTE Liaison for Faculty of Engineering. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence Samar worked as a Post Doctoral Fellow in Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept. She received both her MSc and PhD from the University of Waterloo

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