In the late summer and early fall of 2020, I spent my extra time reinvigorating a previous course I had taken in the chemical engineering department to prepare it for online learning. Specifically what I did was update the lecture slides, homework, and worksheets. With the lecture slides, they were updated to be easier to follow, with more intermediate steps in derivations, updated references to the textbook and homework assignments, as well as the creation of new graphics and movies to represent various concepts in the course. Homework was updated to be self-graded with significantly more details in the solutions as well as a new section after each problem, titled Insights, where it is explicitly stated why the students are being asked to do the problem and where resources, in the lecture slides and textbook, can be found to help assist in problems. This was repeated for worksheets.
Over the course of this project, I have become a much better teacher and student. In the process of learning how other students learn, I have learned much more about how I learn as well. Being able to critically think about problems from multiple directions makes it much easier to not only solve problems, but also to comprehend the truths behind it. From the work I have done for this course, specifically regarding the creation of insights for each problem, I have begun to ask those questions in my studies as well. I have begun to answer some of the assumptions I didn’t even know I had. When a professor is asking you to learn something or solve a problem, I assume they have a reason for it, but I had never really considered it before. Now I actively try to answer those questions. Understanding why you are being asked to learn specific things and understanding the connections between different concepts makes me a much better student, which I wouldn’t have thought critically about, without this project.
The beginning of understanding and developing this metacognition was through my weekly meetings with my professor. Hearing his thoughts about problems and his reasonings for the structure and direction of the course helped me understand the connections that he was trying to implement and enforce. Hearing another person who has had a lifelong desire for learning and teaching helped show me things I hadn’t considered. Before these meetings, my focus had been on learning specific areas, rather than trying to understand the connections between them.
The next activity that drove this change was my implementation of Insights. Going through previous problems and lectures and trying to understand why they were relevant and why they were asked when they were helped me realize that there was meaning behind everything. Occasionally you will find that the meaning behind asking a question is nothing more than you will need to solve this problem on an exam, but even knowing that is valuable knowledge. When I went through the previous homework assignments and created these insights for the problems, it showed me the usefulness in doing this for my own work and studies. Without this project, I would not have considered how useful it is to know why you are being asked to do what you are doing.
The most powerful driving force in my transformation over these months was the creation of new knowledge. Learning to look critically at a set of information and observe where the gaps in knowledge or the unstated assumptions are is not trivial to do. Once these points are identified, creating something to fill these gaps is even more difficult, but it reinforces the connections between the material and creates a more complete final result. Learning to think critically about these knowledge gaps and how to find them was the most important discovery of this project.
This transformation of how I learn and how I can teach is going to be extremely valuable in the future for my career. Over the course of this project I have learned that I enjoy teaching. I could easily see teaching becoming a career path in my future, or trying to include some way to implement teaching as a part of my lifelong career. As I am going to graduate school in the next academic year, I would argue that learning how to learn is one of the most important tools I could have learned before pursuing a doctoral degree. The personal growth I experienced over the course of this project is invaluable to how I will learn, not only in the next few years as I pursue more coursework, but for the rest of my life. I hope to never stop learning. This project showed me how important that is and helped me develop the tools to do so.