Friday, June 6, 2014

Useful Ideas from the Felder-Brent Workshop on Effective Teaching for OBE

Hotel Puteri Pacific, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
I attended the Effective Teaching for Outcomes-Based Education Workshop last May 20-21, 2014 at Hotel Puteri Pacific, Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The resource persons were the OBE experts,  Prof. Richard Felder, Ph.D. ChE and Prof. Rebecca Brent, Ed.D of the North Carolina State University. The workshop was very informative and educational. I have been teaching for more than 20 years in the university, yet I didn't realize that I have been doing bad practices in some cases and there many good practices that I should have applied tomake my teaching and students' learning more effective. I would just list the useful workshop ideas that I learned in the seminar-workshop and I intend to apply them in my future teaching activities.

Brent (2nd from left) and Felder(3rd from left)

1. You can get more feedback from "active learning" and "questioning." Felder and Brent demonstrated during the workshop how active learning can be done effectively in the classroom. In active learning, students do things in class related to the course. During the workshop, Felder asked the participants to group in pairs or three members. Then he pose a question or problem which the group must discuss within a few minutes (from one minute to three minutes depending on the problem). One member is tasked to record the group's output from the short discussion. Felder then asked selected members from various groups about their outpus. In about ten minutes, we got various answers and suggestions from the participants. He compared active learning strategy to individual questioning where in the teacher asked the whole class and then look for volunteers. In this case, you will find very few students willing to answer your question because most of them are shy or passive.

Why does this strategy work? Felder says students when they have interaction with fellow students, they get engaged in the activity. And when the teacher asked for their answers, the students are less shy because what he/she is sharing to the class is a group output not only his/her own. The students are awake during the short active learning activity and participate in the group discussion because they want to be prepared for an answer in case the teachers calls them. Don't worry about the noise students make during the group discussion. It's worth it than a quiet class where learning doesn't take place.

Useful idea: In a 90-minute lecture, students get bored if the teacher is the center of the teaching-learning process. Students should be more actively engaged. Short active learning activities during the 90-minute class is effective - it makes students awake, get them engaged and thinking and the activity also promotes collaborative learning.

2. Initiate opportunities where the students start thinking. Students should not be passive learners but active learners. As stated earlier students learn more on active learning. Before coming to class, review your notes and examples. Think of questions that you may pose to the students and apply active learning to make them think during the lectures. Use varied and challenging questions so that student can apply the lower and higher thinking skills. Instead of using "Is that clear?" or "Any questions?", ask questions similar to the photo below such as "What if I use a different section?", or "How could we improve the process?"

Asking varied questions make students apply the various thinking skills
(PPT slide form the Felder-Brent Workshop).

I applied this active learning in the first meeting of my class in Theory of Structures I (TSTRUC1). I want to review the students on the principles of Statics of Rigid Bodies (STATICS) and Mechanics of Deformable Bodies (MEDEFOR) which are prerequisite courses in TSTRUC1.  So I posed the question below and asked the students to discuss with their partner their answer to the problem for only ONE MINUTE.

Active learning activity in TSTRUC1 - Meeting No. 1

During the one-minute activity, the students get engaged in the discussion, the class obviously was noisy but they are awake. After one minute I called on students randomly from various pairs and I got good answers from the various groups. I have been doing this in my class in TSTRUC1 during the first meeting but in the past they do it individually. I got better, faster and more answers this time when I use pairings. Among the responses given were: type of material, available material, available equipment, allowable stress, weight of person, number of persons, span length, cross-sectional shape, temperature, environment, site, soil type, cost and budget. From the data gathered, I discussed the basic procedure of designing a simple beam bridge using their data and the principles of structural design using concepts from STATICS and MEDEFOR only. Span length, soil type as support and total load (weight and number of persons) are needed to model the bridge and solve the reactions, maximum shear and bending moment. The cross-sectional shape is necessary to determine the moment of inertia and location of the centroid of the section. The type of material is important to make an estimate on the allowable stress and the modulus of elasticity (E) of the beam bridge. The site and its environment are important if you are consider other environmental loads (temperature, wind, seismic, flood, etc). And finally, the budget becomes a constraint to your design as it will limit the cost of the bridge. The activity was very informative and new to them as they were introduced on how theory is applied to a real world civil engineering problem. About ten minutes were used effectively to review basic concepts in STATICS and MEDEFOR.

I shared this blog to Prof. Felder on June 7, 2014 and he immediately sent me this reply (June 8). 

Dear Andres,

Thanks so much for sharing the blog entry with me. It really pleases Rebecca and me that you got as much as you did from the workshop and you put it to use in your teaching that quickly. The beam bridge exercise is excellent. I wish my statics professor had done something like it when I was taking the course many years ago.

Congratulations too on an outstanding blog. Your students are lucky to have you as a resource.

Best regards,


Richard Felder
Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering
North Carolina State University