Electrical and computer engineering faculty team incorporates inclusive teaching practices


A group of electrical and computer engineering faculty spent the spring 2024 semester discussing inclusive teaching strategies and applying them in two foundational courses:  ECE 101 taught by Cameron Nowzari and ECE 201 taught by Kathleen Wage and Jill Nelson.  In addition to these instructors, the team included Khaled Khasawneh, Craig Lorie, Peter Paris, and Smriti Patwardhan. They won an Inclusive Excellence in Teaching Mini-Grant from George Mason University's Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning for their proposal, "Volts, Wires, and Waves: Charging Up, Building Connections, and Breaking Through". The group met weekly throughout the semester to brainstorm ideas and share what worked and what didn’t work in the classroom.   

Inspired by Inclusive Teaching: Strategies for Promoting Equity in the College Classroom by Kelly Hogan and Viji Sathy, Wage wanted to try new approaches aimed at providing all students with the strong foundation they need to succeed in the ECE program.  “That book sparked the idea in me, and I was looking for a group to work with on it. Luckily, I found a fun group of colleagues who were willing to try new teaching methods,” Wage said.    The team experimented with new in-class exercises and several different approaches for assessing student learning, including daily online quizzes and iclicker classroom response systems.   

“There's been a lot of focus on metacognition,” said Nelson. For example, the team has prompted students to think about their optimal learning approach.  

Nowzari explained to his class why they were practicing these new methods of learning, which helped get students to buy into the effort. Students seem to have responded well to the team’s strategies thus far. 

“They essentially say that when they didn't get something, they thought they were stupid, but this really made them realize that there are a lot of different ways to learn.” 

Nowzari added that he encourages his students to take control of their own learning, “I've stressed this a lot in my classes: They're going to have better professors than I am. They're going to have worse professors than I am. And if the professor they draw affects their learning, that's not in the position they want to be in. So, ideally, they will be able to find a way to have control over their own learning, regardless of the figurehead at the front of the room.” 

Wage added that some of their inclusive teaching practices have aided the team in identifying ways to handle students coming to class with varying levels of preparation from high school as well as ways to convey best practices for college studies to students who are part of the first generation of their family to attend college.  

Though the microgrant ended this semester, they plan to continue their efforts next year.  The group hopes that these initial efforts will help to develop the department’s strategic plan for broadening participation in computing and engineering.   

Their next step is comparing data on student success from prior offerings of ECE 101 and 201 to data from this spring 2024.  

“Ideally, we'd like to give students a strong foundation, so more of them can succeed in the higher-level courses,” said Wage.