Junior Faculty Teaching Fellow Spotlights: Karen Hande and Ravindra Duddu
Each month, the CFT Newsletter highlights the work of our Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows. This month, Karen Hande, Instructor in Nursing, and Ravindra Duddu, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, talk about their teaching philosophy and interests.
My interest in teaching began when I precepted nurse practitioner students in my practice. It was particularly rewarding when students developed the professional skills and knowledge to be successful practitioners. The positive engagements I shared in the clinical setting with students were the springboard for actively pursuing an educator role after earning my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Vanderbilt in 2013. My teaching responsibilities now entail the coordination of three doctoral integrative application courses. This series of courses provides the DNP student the opportunity to develop, propose, implement, and defend the scholarly project, a hallmark of Vanderbilt’s practice doctorate. The student applies practice inquiry skills related to his or her topics and populations of interest to include the evaluation of health outcomes, the provision of leadership in translating new knowledge into practice within interprofessional teams, and the dissemination of evidence.
Engaging students in a distance learning program requires me to consider a variety of learning preferences and alternative modalities to enrich and encourage students to reach their scholarly potential. Organization with clear course expectations, ongoing communication, and an abundance of resources builds the framework for adult learners to play an active role in their education. My role as the facilitator of learning challenges me to provide guidance and support for a student-centered approach. The newly implemented scholarly project timeline, modules for the development of a DNP portfolio and the scholarly project process, and rubrics to evaluate scholarly project papers and presentations have created structure for students to be responsible for their learning and development. Exploration of scholarly writing skills to encourage student project publications is on the forefront of redesign.
Although my primary faculty role is to be an effective facilitator of learning, I also uphold the values of Vanderbilt School of Nursing to pursue my areas of research, service, and practice. My research seeks to answer the question of how mindfulness-centered stress reduction can effect nursing students and ultimately patient outcomes. Advocating for full-practice authority for Advanced Practiced Nurses in Tennessee continues to be my area of service to improve access to care for all Tennesseans. My practice as an Adult Nurse Practitioner at the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center in the Supportive Care Clinic allows me to provide quality and compassionate care to a population that is at the center of my heart.
I teach Mechanics of Materials and Advanced Mechanics of Solids to sophomores and first year graduate students at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. As Leonardo da Vinci said “mechanics is the paradise of the mathematical sciences, because by means of it one comes to the fruits of mathematics.” However, I feel that mechanics is a “paradise lost” with traditional teaching methods and standard textbooks focused on information rather than skills, memorization rather than understanding and on derivation rather than application. In my experience, this often leads to poor engagement of students in class; consequently, student learning and knowledge retention is subpar. Considering that mechanics courses introduce a lot of equations and formulae, typical complaints from the students are “too many equations” and “not sure why I am required to take this course.” Thus, my challenge as an instructor is to design my course materials and lectures so that it enhances students’ learning and understanding, develops their reasoning and analysis skills, and exposes them to the real world applications. While this is a difficult challenge by itself, the requirement to teach several fundamental topics in the vast area of solid mechanics within a limited number of class hours makes this a formidable challenge.
To address this challenge, I have been experimenting with “active learning” techniques. In each lecture, I incorporate two-minute and five-minute active learning exercises in order to help the students think and learn. I usually begin the lecture with a two-minute concept question based on a physical observation either from a laboratory experiment or real-life event, and let the students discuss and debate it. Since problem-solving skills are crucial to engineers, I require the students to apply the newly learned concepts and solve a textbook problem in class by working in groups of two or three, which also develops their teamwork and collaboration skills. Just like music is better learned by performing and language is better learned by speaking, I think mechanics is better learned by problem solving.
My teaching philosophy is strongly inspired by the Latin proverb “By learning you will teach, by teaching you will learn.” For synergy between learning and teaching, I believe it is important to maintain a free and open environment in class; wherein, the students are encouraged to ask and respond to one another’s questions. Such an environment induces the spirit of research that is all about asking the right questions first, so as to inspire the next generation of scientists and teachers.