Autar Kaw - Passion for Teaching Statement

I believe that there are some necessary traits of great teachers: being organized, understanding the importance of the first day of class, using teaching tools effectively, being compassionate, giving rapid feedback, asking questions and having high expectations.

I firmly believe that our students want to learn, and it has been proven that their level and type of learning is strongly coupled to effective assessment methods. Hence, it becomes critical to have the components of the course grade meet the learning objectives as well as the high expectations I have for them. For example, in my course on numerical methods, the grading components include varied items such as:

  • Concept tests—Held in the first week of classes, the pre-concept test reassesses students' understanding of the core concepts that they should know from the prerequisite courses while the post-concept test held in the last week of classes shows the gains they have made in their knowledge.
  • Online self-assessment quizzes—Each student gets problems with different numbers for a homework quiz, which keeps each accountable while also fostering online study-hall conversations.
  • Special assignments—These include writing essays and poems.
  • Projects—These are open-ended, realistic and ill-defined. In some projects, no data are given-some data have to be assumed while other data have to be found from other sources.

Rather than choose and be attached to a particular pedagogy, I believe that it is important to mix methods of instruction to reach, encourage and challenge our diverse student population. We are fortunate to live in a time where we have access to evidence-based research in learning sciences and, hence, can confidently use only those findings that are verified and validated.

I also firmly believe in the open and free dissemination of educational materials, and there is ample evidence now of how this has profoundly improved education, diversified modes of learning and created opportunities for everyone. Since 2002, I have been leading the development, assessment and national dissemination of National Science Foundation-funded courseware for an undergraduate engineering course in numerical methods. The course resources are customizable but were developed holistically as it has been proven that transfer of knowledge is more likely to take place if done in multiple perspectives than just in a single context. The open courseware has become very popular worldwide and through its affiliated social media outlets provides a sustainable learning platform via interaction, engagement and discussion in the global classroom. 

I believe that the classroom is not just an avenue for cognitive learning but also for meaningful social interaction and affective learning. Treating students with respect and creating a vibrant atmosphere in the classroom is essential. The informal contact during office hours, in hallways, before class starts, after class and at the student organization meetings is critical in building students' interpersonal skills as well as in enhancing the human dimension to the faculty-student interaction.