Texas A&M, IIT-Madras partnership results in new horizons in teaching and learning for faculty

Thirty-six young faculty members will be trying new approaches to teaching and engaging their students more actively in 2010 and beyond. Their teaching innovations were catalyzed by a faculty development workshop series that is one of the first concrete events to emerge from a partnership between the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M, Chennai, India) and Texas A&M University.The motivation for this extraordinary event was IIT-Madras' dedication to teaching and its passion to prepare its students for the complex, socio-technical challenges of the 21st century. The workshop series was coordinated by Professor Ajit Kumar Kolar, chairman of the Centre for Continuing Education (CCE). Kolar noted that although CCE has sponsored numerous workshops for industry and other educational institutions, this was the first time that CCE had invited external experts to work with its own faculty members.Texas A&M faculty education specialists Dr. Debra Fowler, Dr. Jeff Froyd and Dr. Chandrika Rajagopal offered workshop segments to support faculty members in communicating their expectations for student learning, in assessing student learning to promote student development, in engaging students more actively both inside and outside the classroom, and in reflecting on what can learned from every course they teach.Mutual interests between IIT-M and Texas A&M had been formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed by Dr. G. Kemble Bennett (vice chancellor for engineering for The Texas A&M University System and dean of the Dwight Look College of Engineering) and Dr. M.S. Ananth (IIT-M director) at a ceremony in Chennai in 2005.Building constructive relationships between IIT-M and Texas A&M during a visit of Ananth to College Station, Rajagopal (Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering) and Dr. Chandrika Rajagopal (Center for Teaching Excellence) initiated a dialogue concerning faculty development for junior faculty at IIT, Madras. Ananth then invited three faculty development experts - Fowler, Froyd and Chandrika Rajagopal - to offer a three-day Faculty Development Workshop Series in December 2009 at IIT-M. Fowler is the associate director for the Center for Teaching Excellence; Froyd is a leading expert in engineering education; and Chandrika Rajagopal works extensively to help graduate student teaching assistants, especially international students, improve their teaching.Throughout the workshop, Dr. Pramod S. Mehta, IIT-M professor of mechanical engineering and the champion of the workshop in CCE, actively participated and enthusiastically supported young faculty members as they participated. Based on the outcomes of the workshop, IIT-Madras is considering future workshops on teaching and exploring ideas about creating a centre for learning and teaching to offer institutional support for teaching for all its more than 400 faculty members.In their feedback about the workshop, participants appreciated the interactive nature of the workshop that modeled teaching approaches advocated in the workshop, the expertise of the workshop facilitators, and the opportunity that IIT-Madras provided them to improve their teaching."The program was so helpful, the presentations and handouts were so useful and overall it changed my outlook on teaching. It has made me evaluate the usefulness and effectiveness of some of my teaching strategies I am currently using. I am going to try out some of the techniques I learned during the program in my classes to make them more interactive. The resource people were so knowledgeable and enthusiastic which made the program more enjoyable. Overall, I will recommend this as a must-attend program for any teaching faculty in the world." - Lelitha Devi, Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering"I found the workshop to be extremely useful, particularly the sessions on learning outcomes, assessment and teams. I am planning to implement some aspects of the active learning techniques introduced in this workshop in my class next semester. I want to introduce team based activities and involve all the students (irrespective of their current academic standing) in the class. My sincere thanks to Dr. Rajagopal, Dr. Froyd and Dr. Fowler for introducing these very interesting ideas to me. I hope that you offer more workshops that build on this workshop, in future at IIT-Madras." - C.S. Shankar Ram, Assistant Professor, Engineering Design"The workshop has completely changed my view on teaching. In fact it took me some time to realize the focus is not on teaching but on learning! The workshop was the perfect example of teaching by demonstration. The workshop facilitators made extra efforts to ensure all learners are learning effective teaching methods hands-on. Learning objectives, learning theories, assessment plan, active-cooperative learning - never have I remembered so many concepts at the end of a workshop/course. A clear testimony to the effective techniques adopted in the workshop. I hope to use all that I have learned in practice as I start my teaching career. I strongly recommend the workshop to everyone who teaches." - Gitakrishnan Ramadurai, Visiting Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering"It was indeed a great experience for all of us to have your workshop here and we all enjoyed it, particularly for me the first experience 'to be taught after becoming a teacher.' I am planning to implement the gained methodologies in the classroom environment from next semester onwards. Well, all the sessions were indeed informative; the session on assessment techniques is the one that I found more relevant in increasing the interaction between the teacher and students as well as making the entire process more interesting. Setting up the learning objectives and understanding the students' learning strategies will definitely help in organizing the courses effectively." - N. Sujatha, Assistant Professor, Applied Mechanics"The workshop made me realize that the students are there to learn and not be taught. It also gave us a practical demonstration of the techniques like active and cooperative learning that we could use to make the students reach higher levels in Bloom's taxonomy. It also made me to redefine my role in the classroom from that of provider of information to that of a facilitator for students to help them gather and understand information." - U. Saravanan, Assistant Professor, Civil Engineering"The program was useful in making us think openly about what as teachers we either hush up or keep dogmatic views about. Instead of looking for a solution, I think I would use the course content as a discussion board to consider alternate methods and approaches to better our teaching within certain unavoidable ethnic boundaries. I have written an essay on the Bloom's Taxonomy - that was introduced at the workshop - and its applications at my blog." - Arunn Narasimhan, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering