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Observations from First-year Instructors: What We Wish We Knew Before We Began

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Tricks of the Trade II

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.987.1 - 25.987.14



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Paper Authors


Marcus L. Roberts U.S. Air Force Academy

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Marcus L. Roberts, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Email:

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Randall Deppensmith U.S. Air Force Academy


Ryan Jay Silva U.S. Air Force Academy

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Ryan J. Silva, M.S.E.E., is an instructor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the U.S. Air Force Academy. His research interests include FPGA architectures, cryptography, and embedded systems. He is a member of Tau Beta Pi and Eta Kappa Nu. Email:

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Observations From First Year Instructors: What We Wish We Knew Before We Began In June 2010, the three of us reported to our institution to teach in the Department ofElectrical and Computer Engineering. Each of us brought a different skill set, differentexperiences, and different interests from different jobs in different states. Yet, throughout ourfirst year we simultaneously observed common stumbling blocks, dilemmas, and curiosities.This paper presents some of these common observations from three dissimilar instructors withina contextual framework promoting a learning-centered paradigm, solving teaching dilemmas,and balancing technical syllabus content with real-world “soft” skills. It is not our intention todefine these observations as “Tricks of the Trade” or “Best Practices,” although somerecommendations are made. Rather, our intent is that these observations will open dialogue inother institutions and departments to collectively address these observations. Our institution is fully vested in promoting a learning-centered environment for students.In fact, upon our arrival, all new instructors spent the first seven business days in LearningCommunities to establish a common reference from which to begin instruction. As such, whenthe semester began, student learning was our primary focus, which kept us from retreating topacked-and-hardened memories of antiquated teaching techniques we endured during our collegeyears. We believe this initial common exposure to student-learning strategies contributed to thecommon, astute observations we share within this paper. The observations cover a wide gamut of teaching and classroom strategies and execution,but here are a few observations that are addressed within the paper. These observations, andothers, are explored further to include explanations, recommendations, and probing questions. - Concepts are more important than details. - Real-world relevance is easier said than done. - Determining the proper scope of material for the classroom is an art, not a science. - Long-term memory is unlikely to occur unless a student is motivated. - Enthusiasm is a highly underrated attribute of successful instructors. - Grading is best learned through experience. - The most important lessons students learn are not found in the syllabus. All three of us are in our second year of teaching, and feedback (anecdotal from classroomexperiences, anonymous end-of-semester student feedback, and supervisor auditing/feedback) ispositive thus far. We believe that new and old instructors alike can benefit through review ofthese observations and discussion of the dilemmas and questions that are raised.

Roberts, M. L., & Deppensmith, R., & Silva, R. J. (2012, June), Observations from First-year Instructors: What We Wish We Knew Before We Began Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21744

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