Engineering professor creates rich online learning environment

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By teaching remotely, Stephanie Gillespie, Ph.D., learned to create engaging, interactive and hands-on experiences for students.

Aug 13, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Dr. Stephanie Gillespie has found innovative ways to facilitate discussion and engagement while teaching at a distance.

When the University of New Haven made the switch to distance learning during the spring semester amid the global coronavirus pandemic, Stephanie Gillespie, Ph.D. is an opportunity to continue to find new ways of doing business. ensure that its students continue to have meaningful online classroom experiences.

A lecturer at the University’s Tagliatela College of Engineering, Dr Gillespie has experience teaching first-year engineering courses in an online-only setting. She became a distance education student, learning that while group projects and engineering design experience are possible, they require different settings and support for students. Applying what she learned in her virtual ‘classroom’ over the past semester, she focused on interaction and engagement rather than more traditional textbook reading and homework questions.

“My goal in transitioning to online education was to maintain our learning goals and adapt the path we took to reach them,” she said. “Any interaction we can provide, whether it’s discussions, interactive examples, or even applying the topics to the current health situation, has made the topics more relevant and engaging for the students. ”

Dr. Gillespie has found many innovative ways to facilitate discussion and engagement online. For example, students responded to questions via an online text response, rather than verbally, and she used the breakout rooms of a video conferencing platform to hold small group discussions.

James Shewan '23, Morgan Mahaffey '22, Nick Mayers '23 and Jose Ramirez '23 in class
Dr. Gillespie’s students created their final project for one of Dr. Gillespie’s classes last fall using the University’s Makerspace. From left to right: James Shewan ’23, Morgan Mahaffey ’22, Nick Mayers ’23 and Jose Ramirez ’23.

“I try not to change the way I teach because I want to stay active by emphasizing class discussions and hands-on activities,” she said. “I try to focus on growing the knowledge of the students rather than completing various tasks. ”

Striving to provide most of the online course material, she modified an in-person lab focused on open source Arduino software and circuit hardware to create a virtual simulation using free web resources. His students were able to create a virtual circuit and code it, and they got the same results as they would have done in person.

“My goal in making the transition to online education was to maintain our learning goals and adapt the path we took to achieve them. “Stéphanie Gillespie, Ph.D.

Dr Gillespie, who also recently ran engineering workshops for local Girl Scouts online, interviewed his students to get a better idea of ​​the gear they had at home. They were always doing hands-on design activities, and she was aware of what they had access to, allowing them to complete activities with whatever materials they had. She says it opened the door for them to more opportunities to create, learn and innovate.

“One student might have access to a cardboard box and cotton swabs, while another might have a cereal box and paper napkins,” she said. “These variations in what students have access to actually allow for more diversity in the discussions after the activity is over. The goal is for students to gain knowledge through the activity, not just to successfully complete the activity by following the instructions we provide.


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