Engineering professor

I am Kevin Karplus, an engineering professor at UCSC, posting on this blog despite not having taught a math course since 2003.  I posted yesterday on my blog gasstationwithoutpumps, a post titled Ask better questions, in which I wondered whether I should try to join BetterQs.  Sam Shah graciously invited me to post, so I will repeat most of that blog post here:

I read a number of math-teacher blogs, even though I’ve not taught a math course since Spring 2003 (Honors Applied Discrete Math), because a lot of the teaching discussion is relevant to what I do teach. I also read some physics teacher blogs, for the same reason.

The “better at questioning” theme of is an interesting one for a teacher blog, as it focuses on one rather narrow aspect of teaching, but is open to a diversity of different subjects, different age ranges for the students, and different teaching styles.  I’ve considered joining that blog as a contributor (it is open to any teacher, I believe), but I’m not sure how much I have to say about asking questions that is relevant to the math teachers who are the main audience.

I have much less time with students than K–12 teachers do (35 hours for a standard course, 95 for my intense Applied Electronics lecture+lab course), so I don’t have the luxury of slowly developing a classroom culture—I fully expect some students to still be uncomfortable with the way I teach even at the end of the course, though I attempt to get them to buy into the main purposes of the course within the first few hours of class time.

My goal in lecture classes is not to ask questions, but to get students to ask me questions—I’d rather that they figured out what they needed to know, rather than me trying to guess what holes they have based on what they get wrong on questions. I’m also not very interested in what students can do in 30 seconds—I want to know what they can do if they have adequate time to think and to look things up, so in-class questions don’t tell me much about what students need.  I rely on week-long homework and papers to do that.

I mainly use in-class questions to keep students engaged in the class—asking for the next step in a derivation, for example—rather than to test their knowledge or understanding. Since engagement is my goal, I don’t generally ask students who raise their hands, but do cold calling—selecting students randomly after asking the question.

Questions in the lab are a different matter. There I’m either trying to understand what the student is attempting (“What is the corner frequency you were trying to get?”) or prompting them to learn to do debugging (“Where is your circuit schematic?” “Have you compared your wiring to your schematic?” “What voltage did you expect to see there?”).


2 thoughts on “Engineering professor

  1. I was on an Alaska Cruise recently. The in-house Naturalist Milos Radakovich gave a several wonderful presentations to make heavy Science palatable to the audience.with lots of humor – from Sharks to Climate Change. One session he had called Sicience Cafe used your approach. The audience had to ask questions and he would answer and someone will add to the answer and expand it. It was wonderful one hr of Science and everyone came out appreciating the Science and its impact on our everyday life much better. The questions ranged from Space, Evolution, Energy Sources to Climate Change and everything in between.


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