Class of 2019 – what challenges do educators face today?

Imagine you’re 18 years old again. It’s the start of your undergraduate degree and you have no idea where your first class is being held. Instinctively, you reach for your smart phone and with two clicks you’ve found it’s in the Engineering Building, lecture hall 2 … et voilà!

Students starting university in 2019 have vast amounts of information at the end of their fingertips. For courses which have changed very little over the years, its plausible to think that much of its content could now be found online … should a student decide they no longer want to attend that 5 pm lecture on a Friday afternoon.

Yet the role of an educator remains critical to a student’s learning, it’s just a matter of adapting the pedagogy.  

We encourage our students to collaborate, so why don’t we?

Universities have always been a catalyst for new and exciting ideas, both in terms of research and education. Many of the ‘grand challenges’ we face today will require the next generation of change-makers to think laterally i.e. taking what they have learned and applying it.

Communicating thoughts and broadening one’s knowledge is best achieved through group work, hence why collaborative projects are an excellent tool for nurturing these transferable skills. By working with peers from a variety of backgrounds, students naturally develop a holistic way of thinking and, consequently, bring fresh insights to particular problem.

So why then would we not practice what we preach and adopt this collaborative approach to teaching?

A problem shared is a problem halved

Sharing our experiences should be integral to the role of an educator, since you can learn a lot about yourself by simply opening up a dialogue. Over time, certain tasks become second nature to us and it’s easy to overlook the value of this experience. Something that seems trivial to you, may in fact seem incredibly difficult to someone else.

What’s more, many of our departments are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary making it easier for collaboration to exist across disciplines. For example, a materials engineer may find support from a bioengineering specialist when teaching students about medical devices. Of course, working with colleagues outside of our department may encounter a number of logistical hurdles but when successful, the results can be impressive; take the Impact of Materials on Society course taught at the University of Florida (mentioned in a previous blog).

Materials Education Symposia

Building and maintaining an active community is tricky, particularly when there are so many other demands as an academic. 24 hours in a day is just simply not enough when you need to run seminars, supervise students, publish papers, write grant proposals and deliver scholarly programs. However, the good news is that all the hard work has already been done for you.

For the last 11 years, the Materials Education Symposia have been fostering a vibrant community of educators who care about teaching. With three annual events held at various locations across the world (UK, North America and Asia), the unique 2-day symposium has seen the growth of a global community which continues to flourish. Designed to stimulate productive discussions relating to materials teaching, the event is now a firm favorite in many attendee calendars. On the 10th Anniversary of the International Materials Education Symposia (IMES), Dr. Javier Orozco-Messana was one of three award recipients, recognized for their outstanding contributions to education. Having attended all 10 events, he explains:

“For me, the Materials Symposium in Cambridge represents an unparalleled opportunity to meet with some of the most representative world figures in the academic world of materials whilst also allowing me to be up-to-date with the most innovative experiences in teaching.”

The 2019 Materials Education Symposium in Cambridge is set to be the biggest to date and for those who will be joining us this week, we look forward to seeing you there!

Take a look at last year’s IMES for a taster of what’s to come:

Harriet Parnell

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