Raghu Pucha, who also won a CETL Undergraduate Educator Award in 2012, teaches computer-aided engineering and design. His research interests include analysis of composite materials for structural and electronics applications, manufacturing process mechanics, and design-for-reliability.
Raghu Pucha, who came to Georgia Tech as a postdoctoral fellow in January 2000 and started teaching in 2005, said he did not give much thought to a “teaching philosophy” during his early days in the classroom.
He remembers trying to motivate students with “pep talks.”
“I would say ‘Guys, come on, this is a great subject, learn it!’ But I soon realized that motivation is a byproduct. When you’re engaged, that’s what gives you the motivation to go farther.”
So Pucha abandoned his top-down, lecture-centered approach in favor of an open-ended, problem-based approach.
For example, in his ME 4041 Interactive Graphics and CAD course, students are given a product to develop using the visualization tools they are learning.
“We need to make them realize learning is their responsibility,” he said. “I’m here to give you the various fundamental concepts, but you need to explore and learn beyond that.”
Pucha establishes a “minimum expectation platform” and uses ongoing assessment to determine individual needs and ensure that no student exits the course without meeting these expectations, though many exceed them.
“They understand that I’m more interested in their learning than in their grade. I don’t judge them,” he said.
“For them to be able to take the feedback, understand the mistake, and be able to fix it, that gives them confidence and the platform to go on to the next step.”
At the end of every semester, Pucha makes notes about what really worked and what might need improvement. “I also talk to many students when they come to my office,” he said. “I say, ‘Hey, I implemented this, what do you think about it?’”
One wall in Pucha’s office is filled with “Thank-a-Teacher” certificates, and he consistently earns high scores and positive comments on the Course Instructor Opinion Survey (COIS).
One such student comment reads, in part:
“Dr. Pucha, you are an incredible professor! A quote of yours … will stick with me forever: ‘Due dates are not important. What is important is that you have learned the material.’
I believe education should be more like this instead of forcing everyone to be on the same page at the same time.”
Chrissy Spencer teaches principles of biology, ecology, genetics, evolution, genetics lab, and math models. Her research interests include evolution and ecology, and experimental evolution.
Chrissy Spencer said the first thing she needed to hear as a teacher was, “It’s OK to try things.” The second thing she needed to hear was, “It’s OK to try things in small steps!”
Her first teaching assignment was as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, where she stuck to a traditional lecture format. She then moved to Lees-McRae, a small liberal arts college in North Carolina, for a two-year stint as a biology instructor. While there, she attended a faculty boot camp.
“I just came back with my head exploding with ideas,” she recalled. “It was exactly what I needed at that point to transform what I did in the classroom.”
It also made her more marketable when it came time to apply to Georgia Tech. “I had both the vocabulary and the practice to say that I would be an effective faculty member with the cutting-edge teaching practices we use here in our biology program.”
Spencer participates in the CETL book club and also attends workshops, both to collect ideas and draw from the energy.
A few of the innovative teaching practices Spencer has implemented since coming to Georgia Tech in 2010 include flipped classes, team-based learning, and service-learning. For larger classes, she uses the online platform Learning Catalytics, which is designed to make big classrooms work more like smaller ones.
Spencer keeps a running file on every course she teaches, and whenever she finishes a lecture, activity, or exam that didn’t go as well as planned, she makes a note of it. Her end goal is always for students to meet specific learning objectives.
“If I’m ever doing anything that’s not allowing students to meet one of the goals I have for them, I have to rethink that,” she said.
One thing Spencer has discovered is that “teaching in general” and “teaching at Georgia Tech” are two different challenges. “Our students are so good, and I can push them pretty far,” she said. “But sometimes it’s hard to figure out if I’m pushing them too far or not far enough.”
It’s a nice problem to have, she admits, but she must be striking the right balance.
Like Pucha, she consistently pulls in positive comments on the CIOS, like this one from her BIOL 1510 course: “I appreciate your efforts in lecture…. Your passion for biology and a certain care for presenting the material comes across during that hour and the positive effects on my learning remain. You truly make a difference through teaching.”