ECS Professors Selected to Share Innovative Teaching Ideas

Dr. Rashaunda Henderson

Dr. Rashaunda Henderson restructured her classes to improve student understanding.

Two professors from the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science were selected to participate in the National Academy of Engineering’s Frontiers of Engineering Education Symposium last month in Irvine, Calif.

The academy chose 73 engineering educators to share ideas and learn from best practices. The attendees, nominated by NAE members or university deans, were recognized for developing and implementing innovative educational approaches in engineering. The fifth-annual symposium focused on online learning, including MOOCs (massive open online courses), gaming and flipped classrooms. 

Dr. Rashaunda Henderson and Dr. Nicholas Gans, assistant professors of electrical engineering, said they were excited to participate.

“It was a great networking experience in which I met people in engineering and engineering education who have had success with nontraditional teaching,” Henderson said.

Henderson, who joined UT Dallas in 2007, proposed to restructure her lecture-based electrical engineering classes by splitting them into two segments: one for teaching and the other for interactive learning modules, incorporating laboratory experiments, computer simulation and recitation.

Dr. Nicholas Gans

Dr. Nicholas Gans launched robotics outreach projects in local schools and communities.

The innovation came after Henderson noticed two things. She routinely did demonstrations during class, but they were not structured, and she thought planning the activities would help the students learn better. She also observed students struggling with simulation homework assignments and decided to make course time available to ensure their understanding.

“I hope to create an environment where students can learn what is being expected of them in this class,” said Henderson, who is a member of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence (TxACE). “About half of the 40-student class will not take a lab course in which additional understanding is obtained. With the laboratory in a class model, I am hoping the split lecture style will help in getting challenging concepts across to the students.”

Gans, who joined the UT Dallas faculty in 2009, said the University had no robotics curriculum and a limited controls curriculum when he arrived. He created a robotics course and robotics lab at UT Dallas.

Robotics is a key technology and has applications in autonomous vehicles, health care and advanced manufacturing, Gans said. The course has been offered to graduate students twice; Gans plans to offer it to undergraduates next year. 

Gans also launched outreach projects to local schools and the community, including demonstrating the UT Dallas Robot Chess Team at public events and organizing a summer camp for high school students to learn how to build moving, interactive sculptures. He aims to extend the Robotic Arts camp to middle school students in the future.

“It is important for younger people to have an accurate understanding of what engineering and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers might be like,” he said. “Robotics is very popular with elementary, middle and high school students right now, but I am not sure the students involved in it really understand what a career in robotics would be like. I try to present current applications and what I think future applications will be.”  

During the symposium, Gans learned from other educators who have integrated recent technologies into their teaching, and he looks forward to applying the strategies to his classroom. He also shared his own approaches. 

“I was able to present my own experiences in creating courses and outreach and help other participants,” Gans said. “One thing I shared that was appreciated by many participants was how the students currently taking the robotics lab course are actively involved in improving the course for next year.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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