Engineering Fundamentals Honored for Teaching Innovation Initiated during COVID

May 13, 2021

By Holly Hinson
Pictured clockwise from top left: Brian Robinson, Gary Eisenmenger, Nick Hawkins and Jim Lewis.

Pictured clockwise from top left: Brian Robinson, Gary Eisenmenger, Nick Hawkins and Jim Lewis.

Four Speed School Engineering Fundamentals professors collaborated to redesign and convert engineering courses to remote learning, and earned one of four Teaching Innovation Learning Lab (TILL) Awards, presented by the Delphi Center for Teaching and Learning.

Engineering Fundamentals faculty Brian Robinson, James Lewis, Nick Hawkins and Gary Eisenmenger will be featured at the 2022 Celebration of Teaching and Learning and will receive a $1,000 cash prize.

The Teaching Innovation Learning Lab (TILL), located on the third floor of Ekstrom Library, cultivates and supports the scholarly development, investigation, and dissemination of innovative and evidence-based teaching at the University of Louisville through faculty-led experimentation, idea exchange, and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

The newly established annual TILL Teaching Innovation Award offers individual recognition to UofL instructors who explore new methods for fostering learning and improving teaching. Applications are reviewed by a committee of peers, Delphi Advisory Board members, and Delphi Center staff.

The Engineering Fundamentals faculty was commended for their work on ENGR 111, Engineering Methods, Tools, and Practice II, focused on application and integration of the engineering fundamentals learned in the prerequisite ENGR 110 (Engineering Methods, Tools, and Practice I) course. ENGR 111 is conducted in a 15,000 sq. ft. makerspace called the Engineering Garage (EG) and, in particular, relies heavily on teamwork and collaboration through problem-based, project-based and discovery-based coursework.

When these courses were forced to be moved to remote delivery due to COVID-19, Engineering Fundamentals instructors established ways to continue to deliver a quality curriculum and meet course objectives.

“The first stage was to build the platform on Teams and mimic the makerspace environment through online,” said Engineering Fundamentals Professor Brian Robinson. “After that, we took each course objective and looked at it independently to figure out what we could do on a case by case basis for each fundamental engineering skill,” he said. “Fortunately, we were able to find something unique for each one,” he said.

The instructors sought to retain a heavy focus on teamwork, using Classroom Response Systems (CRS) which allows students to respond in real-time to questions on a screen.

“CRS is a really neat way to engage students especially when you don’t have them in the same room with each other,” said Nick Hawkins, another Engineering Fundamentals professor on the team. “We wanted to keep the course as active as we could,” he said. “Not only does it keep students engaged in a remote environment, but we can get feedback on how well they are learning the material, something that can be difficult to do when the group is on MS Teams with no cameras or mikes on.”

Robinson said that they will continue to use the CRS in the course for the foreseeable future because it represents another way of active learning, and it works. “While we did conduct a survey that we will code and analyze after the summer, our preliminary results are showing no perceivable drop off in the knowledge base, and anecdotally, students haven’t expressed any issues,” he said.

“In fact, we did a couple things a little bit better, said Engineering Fundamentals Professor James Lewis. “By having each student build their own circuit rather than one circuit per team, it actually helped some of the students get a little more experience with circuit building.”

Hawkins said the frequency of interactions and check-ins with students also increased because of the new learning methods. “Under a normal environment teaching in the Engineering Garage, we would give the students a set of instructions and let them do their thing, and we would be around if they had questions,” he said. “Since we’re not there now, we ended up talking to them more, which was helpful,” he said. “We have a better understanding of where they were and giving them more detailed help at the beginning of every day ended up as an improvement from what we had been doing,” said Hawkins.

Being forced by circumstance to come up with new solutions can spawn creativity, said Engineering Fundamentals instructor Gary Eisenmenger. “What happens in a situation like this is you look at everything you’ve been doing and say, ‘What can we do now, what’s different, and you do end up with new ideas and a lot of keepers. I think it’s going to be a good idea to meet with everyone ten minutes in the classroom setting because the Engineering Garage can be like speaking into a void. Having to go back and analyze everything is a plus.”

Robinson said the group is excited to disseminate to the greater community the valuable information they gleaned from this innovation about evidence-based teaching. “How do we go about sharing this with not just UofL family but the greater community?” he said. “One of those means has been this award, and the presentation we will do at next year’s Celebration of Teaching and Learning, and stories like this. Collecting those survey results is another way,” he said.

Robinson said the group is honored to be a recipient of the TILL Teaching Innovation Award in its inaugural year. “With 22 applicants for the award, knowing our efforts got singled out amongst what I’m sure was a wealth of strong candidates, made it even more rewarding for us.”