“The standard lecture format is not engaging to this generation of learners. We need to adapt our teaching styles to meet their needs. With the tools at their fingertips today, they can focus on becoming problem solvers with excellent means for expression and spreading their findings.” – Diane Evans, USA

We heard from math professor Diane Evans last June, when the educator (named one of America’s 300 best professors) reinforced the importance of STEM education and shared her approach to connecting with and motivating students. Since then, Evans has been very busy implementing project-based learning on her campus (solving problems we can all relate to), completing her Six Sigma Black Belt certification and learning how to effectively teach courses online.

Today, we’re thrilled to share an update from Evans, who with a true commitment to life-long learning, inspires students and educators alike to innovate, take risks and push boundaries. Enjoy!

From Diane Evans:

“I am thankful to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology for helping me to put the VLOG together for Daily Edventures.  Rose has been videotaping professors this year in an effort to showcase its instructors and their passion for education.  I was delighted with the final product, and I am thrilled to have it become part of Daily Edventures!  No matter what class I’m teaching – I absolutely love to convey knowledge to students.  Students who care about the subject only make it that much better!

Besides in-class instruction, I have begun teaching classes online.  I miss the daily personal interaction with students because I feed off of students’ questions, inquiries, and excitement.  I believe, though, that online education is here to stay.  To make the experience as fulfilling as possible for both the instructor and students, it is essential to try to maintain as much of the personal feel as possible.  For me, producing YouTube videos is a way for me to “talk” to my students.  At first I was worried that background noises (e.g., my dog barking, my cellphone ringing) would be an unwanted distraction, but I find it only helps to make the videos more real.  Instead of ignoring a distraction, I include my students in the experience.  For example, “I’ll be back in a moment, my mom is calling!”  Or “sorry about that, my dog is barking because she sees a rabbit outside.”  Also, Microsoft Lync enables me to hold office hours at any time of the day or night.  I had students taking my class last summer who were in China, India, and the western US.  We could schedule times to “meet” online and discuss problems with words, drawings, voice, and video.  I am looking forward to more opportunities in online teaching this summer to improve my videos and require weekly “visits” online!

I’d also like mention my growing interest in real-world problems and doing research with students.  I’ve gone to two conferences this year with my students.  One student built a hand volumeter for measuring swelling in hands, especially after broken bones from accidents.  The problem arose from a bicycle accident I had the previous summer in which I broke my right arm and left hand.  During rehabilitation, the physical therapist used a volumeter to measure the decrease in swelling at weekly appointments.  My student (who was just doing the project for fun as she trained for the long jump on campus during the summer) had an interest in making her own volumeter (saving us over $400) and running left/right hand comparisons to determine if dominant hands were “larger” than non-dominant hands.  The other student and I had just returned from New Orleans after doing a presentation that arose from a dining room food waste project on campus.  We used statistical methodology (specifically Six Sigma) to reduce the cafeteria food waste over a one-week period.  We were able to show a projected savings of over $11,000 if the school implements our waste reduction methodology.

This quarter I have five different student projects underway: the eradication of invasive plants on campus, the reduction of customer wait time at the student coffee shop, the reduction of power usage in the student dorms, measurement validation testing on medical devices, and a designed experiment to reduce variation in bowling.  I also worked with a group of Computer Science students on an interdisciplinary project last quarter where they constructed a simulation of an Easter peep machine for me to use in class to demonstrate the concept of rational subgrouping.  I love it, and the Easter peeps are adorable!  To get you in the Easter mood, take a look here and enjoy!  I’d like to thank Daily Edventures again for including my story with this excellent group of educators!”

What significant event(s) have taken place in your professional life since we last heard from you?

The most significant event was finishing my Six Sigma Black Belt project in order to complete the requirements of Six Sigma Black Belt certification.  I hope to bring a Six Sigma certification program to Rose-Hulman in the near future.  The course and eventual certification will greatly assist our engineering students in their future careers.

What is the most significant change in the world of education you’ve observed in the last year? Why?

The most significant changes that I’ve observed are the advances in online learning – educators are using online tools, such as Camtasia and Prezi, to make awesome and engaging presentation materials.  Soon, online education and the “flipped” classroom will be “the norm.

What have you learned in the last year as part of your professional development that you would like to share with our readers?

I’ve learned to throw caution to the wind in my Six Sigma class and give my students (and myself) freedom to explore real-world problems on campus with currently unknown solutions.  I like to have “control” of the problems I assign in the sense that I know the outcomes prior to beginning them.  With the problems we are currently working on, such as eradicating invasive plants on campus or trying to reduce energy usage in dorms, there is not just one correct solution or definitive answer.  We are challenged with exploring solutions that may in the end not work or produce the results we are seeking.  I think the important part of this learning experience is that we are trying to tackle something real, and when the results turn out in our favor, it’s only that much more rewarding.

What are you most encouraged about in education right now?

Although I hear some people suggest that students entering college are weaker than in previous years, I just don’t see it.  I continue to be impressed by the new crop of students we see entering college each year.  One big difference, though, from students in the past is the way they learn.  The standard lecture format is not engaging to this generation of learners.  We need to adapt our teaching styles to meet their needs.  With the tools at their fingertips today, they can focus on becoming problem solvers with excellent means for expression and spreading their findings.

Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?

For me, the skill that I am most excited about is collaboration.  It took me most of my professional career to adapt to my own field of study, and now I’m finding joy in looking outside my area of knowledge and security to tackle different types of problems.  These new problems require collaboration with other departments within my school.  Besides working with other faculty members and students, I’ve also needed help and input from staff members, such as our groundskeeper to educate our class about the removal of invasive plants on campus.  I’m also very excited about the work I am doing with students.  Being able to share professional conference experiences with my professors was something I appreciated from my past, and now I’m able to do the same with my current students.

Where do you see your professional path taking you next?

I would eventually like to offer the Six Sigma class experience to our alumni and community.  There are many industries and small companies, such as the famous Terre Haute Square Donuts, who could really benefit from the knowledge of what goes into improving a process through the methodology of Six Sigma.

Interested in the latest on innovation?

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