Meaningful learning experiences don’t just happen—they are intentionally designed. In Learning that Matters: A Field Guide to Transformative Education, authors C. Zehnder, C. Alby, K. Kleine, and J. Metzker challenge readers to consider how best to construct the courses that make up an institution’s degree programs. When modified, these courses can shift the student experience from one that drains their energy (Why do I have to take this course? Why do these assignments feel like busywork? Why am I in college?) to an experience that challenges, engages, and prepares students to contribute to society.
- How do you connect learning to students’ priorities, such as career goals, opportunities for positive societal impact, and real-world relevance?
- What about your approach to teaching makes students feel like the effort they put into the course is worthwhile?
- What opportunities do you provide for your students to join in assignments/projects that serve the community?
Ellen Yi Chen Mazumdar, Mechanical Engineering
In my class, I frame all of the homework problems from the perspective of an engineer trying to solve a problem at work. This teaching strategy makes it clear how the class problems can relate to their future. I also discuss in class which controller design techniques are typically used in industry and which techniques are typically used in research, this gives students an idea how the techniques they are studying can be used. Finally, I describe in class how previous students have used their final project presentations and videos for interviews or job talks. This often helps students become more invested in their projects since they can be integrated directly into design portfolios.
Peter J. Hesketh, Mechanical Engineering
We talk about practical, real-world examples of heat transfer; for example, conservation of energy from double pane windows, temperature of the earth based upon solar irradiation, and heat exchanger efficiency impact on air conditioning. Students build their skills with homework and weekly quizzes, so they are confident to take the exams. They carry out a team project with an open-ended solution, and many of them comment on the usefulness of this kind of integrated problem in the course evaluations.
Michael Gamble, Architecture
Learn everyone’s name as fast as you can, and call someone’s name out at the beginning of class – “How is Clark today, Clark what is on your mind?”. If you don’t get a response, try someone else. This practice gets everyone dialed in to more personal interaction very quickly. Make it a habit to gently call on every person in your class on a very regular basis.
Connect the “subject matter” e.g. “social equity and climate change” to the library, periodicals and at least one person off campus – even if the subject is curing cancer, get current quotable content for paper, project, report or podcast from an individual, a library book and a periodical. Try to avoid a bunch of https: bibliographic entries.
Getting students involved in assignments or projects that serve the community works best in an interview format. Get 3 students and 2-3 experts together, turn on bluejeans “record”, and get them talking over a cup of coffee. When all else fails, ask a guest about a favorite food growing up, what was it, where was it made, who made it. In other words, basic community and service questions.
John Cressler, Electrical and Computer Engineering
These are constant topics of conversation. Students today really care about their impact.
I properly motivate the topic as something important to know, regardless of the course or material.
Some of my classes have social outreach components (IAC 2002). But in all classes I talk about society and our role in bettering the world.
William Todd, Scheller College of Business
Since the new Georgia Tech Mission Statement was adopted I now quote it at the top of my syllabi. I think that this Mission is a wonderful guide to all of our pursuits and actions and is masterfully written with each word being quite significant. Frequently throughout the semester I will refer to the statement and ask students to test our efforts against this guiding light. It produces some amazing discussions, mostly affirming what we are studying in our analysis of cases (the preferred teaching tool in business schools), but occasionally producing glaring exceptions that need to be righted. It reinforces my strong belief that organizations with a clear sense of purpose and how each person fits in with it outperform others. It helps students evaluate the importance of corporate culture as they chose their first employer and launch their careers.
Alex Orso, Computer Science
Whenever I can, I share experiences from previous students who were able to use what they learned in class in their workplace, for job interviews, or similar. I have a number of email messages from students that I use for that purpose (with authorization from those students), and I found that it has a great effect on motivation and sense of purpose.
Julia Melkers, Public Policy
I ask students in research design to identify key principles and also observations from empirical examples that apply specifically to their areas of research — emphasizing that they need to make it their own, beyond mastering an understanding of principles of research design.
For my undergraduates, who are mostly engineering and CS students, I continually cycle back through how expertise in S&E matter for public policy, and also how their dual role of citizen and community member as well as professional matters for civic responsibility. I also have them do a group project contract that asks about personal responsibility, and then link to an end of term peer and self review.
I also have them do a group project contract that asks about personal responsibility, and then link to an end of term peer and self review.
Polo Chau, Computational Science and Engineering
The course I teach has a “group project” component. I encourage students to choose a project topic that they enjoy working on (one that they will be proud to showcase in future), rather than choosing an “easy” topic for course grades.
Sal Barone, Mathematics
In linear algebra we cover many topics which are directly relevant to the students’ majors. For the **other** topics, I try to relate how it is important to build up the basics so that you can learn what you need to learn when it comes time to apply the concepts to your particular area of expertise. I also encourage a few visitors every semester, who are promoting GT Hack-a-thon or some similar approved event, and ask the visitor to speak a few words about the importance of linear algebra in their major (which always turns out to be “a lot”).
Many of the topics of the course are revisited several times throughout the semester. By tying together newer aspects of the course to earlier topics, the students gain a sense of accomplishment and discover that the practical knowledge they have gained over time is useful to understand the more deep/conceptual topics.
There is one exploration assignment every year in which the students can research how linear algebra is used in the ‘real world’. Some students use this opportunity to discover how linear algebra can be used to solve real world problems involving community development.