Educating educators

Educating educators

Chemical Engineering professor leads teaching workshop in India.

Teaching teachers is no small feat, especially in a foreign land where only some of your listeners speak English.

But Dr. Stephanie Farrell, a Rowan associate professor of chemical engineering, has done just that.

Chosen to lead a workshop in Kakinada, a city in the southeastern portion of India, Dr. Farrell in January was one in a team of international educators who shared modern teaching techniques with engineering faculty who, by and large, stick to old-fashioned lecturing for lessons.

While lecturing remains a component of teaching in all engineering programs, including Rowan's, other techniques such as active learing, cooperative learning and inductive teaching have proven better at engaging students than a curricula of straight lectures.

"The idea was to focus on classroom strategies that connect with students without putting them to sleep," Dr. Farrell said. "With active learning we use short activities to get students engaged. Cooperative learning involves grouping students in teams and having them work together to solve problems. Inductive learning starts with observations from which students generalize to develop a theory."

From infancy, she said, humans learn actively, cooperatively and inductively. For example, toddlers are taught to tie their shoes (active learning), children play together constructively (cooperative learning), and babies sometimes touch hot stoves (an immediate lesson in heat transference through inductive learning).

The workshop, "Proven Strategies of Effective Teaching," was part of the Indo-U.S. Collaboration for Engineering Education.

"There are hundreds of engineering schools in India," Dr. Farrell said, "but with few exceptions, most faculty haven't been trained in the same way as they are here. The idea of this workshop was if you can make an impact on the faculty, you can have an exponential impact on their students."

She said the workshop, held twice over five days, also focused on designing effective courses, assessing student learning and teaching methods, and effective communication.

Dr. Farrell has held similar workshops in Kazakhstan, an industrialized nation in Central Asia that declared itself independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.

She said her teaching abroad has greatly benefitted her classroom skills at Rowan because she too learned by doing.

"Some say the best way to learn something is to teach it," Dr. Farrell said. "I'm teaching about teaching so, when I'm in my own classroom, I think more about practicing what I teach."