Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Classroom Observation Reflection

During my classroom observation, I intended to capture and record every activity of both the instructor, TA, and students. What impressed me most is the fact that group discussion and problem solving dominate the classroom while lecturing can hardly be noticed. Also, students show a strong inclination to use advanced technological infrastructure and dependency on computer tools.

Group Discussion
Students spent at least half of the class session in group discussion. Emphasis on group discussion echoes the need of teamwork in engineering disciplines. Some groups started to become well-structured where work division is very clear while most of them did not. Communication media varied significantly - some think aloud with plenty of gesture, emotion, and talking, whereas some worked individually with only occasional chatting and writing on paper. Both intra- and inter-group communications were allowed and welcomed. However, when a group is composed of students barely sharing any common, agreements cannot be easily achieved and very often voice of underrepresented members would be ignored. Also, the scale and difficulty of the topic for group discussion in this class were designed to be a bit beyond individual capacity but can be solved in groups within 15 minutes.

Problem Solving
Real-world problems preceded almost all exercises, quizzes, and lecturing. From simple programming tasks to lecturing on engineering estimation, real-world problems always come along with the content actually delivered. When the instructor started the topic Engineering Estimation, he chose an interesting problem ‘Why mice are harder than elephants to keep warm?’ and then transited to the surface area volume ratio. In this class, theories and principles appeared only when they are needed. Once they were introduced, students used them to solve a problem immediately. I think in this way, student may value knowledge higher and become more skillful in tackling real-world problem when they step into industry later. However, structure of knowledge looks more scatter and non-systematic, which requires extra efforts to link knowledge together.

Influence of Advanced Technology
The most impressive scene was that students complained and felt upset when they heard the problem must be solved by only pencil, paper, and calculator. Even so, some students insisted in programming on their laptops to get the result and hence they were warned once more by the instructor. This exercise took much longer than others where computer programs were allowed. Finally, only a few groups completed it. I think the emergence of advanced technology not only requires students to learn more but also transform the way of accessing knowledge.
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