Students, faculty improving engineering education through GATE program

6/8/2015 Daniel Dexter, ECE ILLINOIS

In last two years, ECE faculty and students have been represented in the annual Grants for Advancement of Teaching Engineering (GATE) program.

Written by Daniel Dexter, ECE ILLINOIS

Engineering is not the only thing ECE ILLINOIS professors and students are researching.

In last two years, ECE faculty and students have been represented in the annual Grants for Advancement of Teaching Engineering (GATE) program. The goal of the program is to identify and solve problems in the education of the engineering curriculum.

Brian Faulkner
Brian Faulkner

In 2014-2015, graduate student Brian Faulkner, visiting Assistant Professor Geoffery Herman, and Lecturer David Varodayan were awarded a grant through the GATE program for their proposal on “Exploring the Creation of Effective Instructional Text.” The research aimed to develop the best textbook for ECE 110, Introduction to Electronics. Faulkner worked as the primary researcher and Varodayan was ultimately responsible for authoring the new textbook. They recently finished their work and presented their findings at AE3 on April 24.

For the 2015-16 school year, Professors Jont Allen and Stephen E Levinson along with Physics Professor Michael Stone and Mathematics Professor John D’Angelo were awarded funding through the GATE program for their proposal on “Concepts in Engineering via Mathematical History.”

Jont Allen
Jont Allen

The goal of their research has been to create a class to teach engineering students advanced mathematics in accordance to the history of its discovery. The class, ECE 298JA, was created for undergraduates who passed out of calculus I and II in high school. Allen believes that despite these students’ ability to succeed in calculus in high school, they still have room to grow in their knowledge of higher-level math concepts, which can be achieved through an understanding of its history.

“There is a story to be told,” Allen said. “So when you see the history, you can’t help but learn mathematics because you are learning who did what and why they did it.”

Allen highly encourages any incoming engineering student who satisfies the prerequisite to take his class because it offers students a unique math perspective that will be invaluable in future courses.

Like Allen, Faulkner and Varodayan also geared their projects toward underclassmen who are not yet accustomed to the collegiate environment and have had different learning styles in the past.

David Varodayan
David Varodayan

They worked on designing an electronic textbook for ECE 110. It allows students to expand or contract example problems for more or less detailed explanations, respectively. Faulkner hopes that this will appeal to students in ways traditional textbooks haven’t in the past. Eventually, he plans to publish his own how-to on textbook writing.

“Despite textbooks being published since Euclid, there is very little information out there on what has been proven to work and what has been the best practice for textbook design, particularly for STEM fields,” Faulkner said. “If you want to be a novelist, there are no shortage of resources about here is what works and what doesn’t work, but there is no equivalent resource for the aspiring textbook author.”

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This story was published June 8, 2015.