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The Faculty Ulysses Contract

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Reflective & Critical Pedagogies

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1532.1 - 26.1532.24



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Paper Authors


Joe Tranquillo Bucknell University

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Joe Tranquillo is an Associate Professor of Biomedical and Electrical Engineering at Bucknell University. Joe was the founder and inaugural chair of the Biomedical Engineering Society Undergraduate Research Track, and co-founder of the KEEN Winter Interdisciplinary Design Experience. He currently serves as the Chair of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Biomedical Engineering Division (BED), the co-director of the Institute for Leadership in Technology and Management (ILTM) and is co-editor of the Morgan and Claypool biomedical engineering book series. Joe is the author of three undergraduate textbooks. His work has been featured on the Discovery Channel, TEDx, US News and World Report, and CNN Health. He has won the national ASEE BED Teaching Award, Bucknell’s Presidential Teaching Award, and is currently a National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Education Fellow and an NSF Pathways to Innovation Faculty Fellow. When not working Joe enjoys improvisational dance and music, running trail marathons, backpacking, brewing Belgian beers and most of all enjoying time with his children and wife.

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The  Faculty  Ulysses  Contract    Every  teacher  has  encountered  the  situation  where  a  student  asks  a  question  about  material  from  class.  On  the  one  hand,  we  could  simply  answer  the  question.  On  the  other  hand,  we  could  challenge  the  student  to  discover  the  answer  on  his  or  her  own,  as  is  the  case  in  Problem  Base  Learning  and  other  inductive  pedagogical  methods.  In  both  cases,  the  assumption  is  that  the  faculty  member  is  the  content  expert.  What  I  will  present  is  a  way  to  assign  problems  and  projects  where  the  faculty  member  is  not  the  content  expert.  The  result  is  the  Faculty  Ulysses  Contract,  after  the  hero  of  the  Odyssey  who  took  actions  in  the  present  to  ensure  that  he  would  be  incapable  of  making  a  bad  decision  in  the  future.  Just  as  Ulysses  gave  up  power  in  the  present  to  prevent  disastrous  actions  later,  faculty  can  cede  their  position  as  the  content  expert  now  to  prevent  a  short-­‐circuit  in  learning  later.      Ceding  the  position  of  content  expert  does  not  mean  that  authority  is  given  up.  The  faculty  member  is  still  in  control  of  the  structure,  assignments,  grades  and  other  logistics  of  the  class.  I  will  discuss  how  to  structure  an  environment  where  a  virtuous  cycle  of  both  actions  and  thoughts  encourages  students  to  become  their  own  Chief  Learning  Officers.      In  their  careers  students  will  work  in  noisy  environments  where  their  bosses  will  likely  not  have  the  answer.  They  need  practice  making  decisions  in  these  more  authentic  environments.  Issuing  a  Faculty  Ulysses  Contract  eliminates  the  “right  answer”  (even  for  the  faculty),  and  grades  must  therefore  reflect  processes,  decisions,  intentions  and  results  –  the  same  measures  of  success  used  in  the  real  world.      Faculty  can  learn  in  these  environments  too.  By  issuing  a  Faculty  Ulysses  Contract,  we  naturally  become  more  engaged  and  can  model  the  good  habits  of  thought  and  action  that  lead  to  learning.  It  is  also  a  way  of  being  actively  empathetic  to  the  frustrations  inherent  in  learning  something  new.      Included  in  the  paper  will  be  a  more  detailed  argument  for  Faculty  Ulysses  Contracts,  tools  for  successful  implementation,  the  synergies  with  other  pedagogical  approaches,  student  perceptions  of  the  technique,  classroom  case  studies  and  a  discussion  of  the  barriers  to  faculty  adoption.       1  

Tranquillo, J. (2015, June), The Faculty Ulysses Contract Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24870

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