I am interested in research on teaching strategies and classroom policies that elicit the best student engagement and learning. I am interested in exploring which ways of structuring the learning environment help students make the best use of technology without distracting themselves or others, learn a problem-solving process they can use to transfer their skills to a wide variety of problems, and have confidence in their ability to learn irrespective of social biases and pressure.

Research experience

My prior research experience is in the area of nonlinear dynamics. While most natural systems are inherently nonlinear, they are often reduced to a linear model so that an exact analytical solution to the mathematical model can be found. In graduate school, I studied methods for describing system behavior via approximate analytical solutions, qualitative descriptions, and numerical simulations.  In particular, I investigated the stability of single-track vehicles, e.g. bicycles, accounting for bicycle geometry, delayed rider control inputs, and ground conditions. The latter compared riding on rollers (a type of trainer) to flat ground, and I identified an additional eigenvalue in the model not present in the flat ground condition that accounts for the decreased stability and increased need for a skilled human operator.

Since then, I have turned my attention to education. I collaborated on a pilot project to have students perform microelectronics labs outside of the laboratory environment [1]. I also presented a poster at a computer science education conference on a method to teach students a systematic programming process [2]. I plan to continue this work by focusing on three areas that are crucial to student success: effective use of technology, teaching problem-solving skills, and inclusive teaching.

Education technology

When I worked in the Center for Instructional Technology, some of the talks I attended presented us with a false choice: classroom technology—yes or no? This question pits the blithe forward thinkers against the Luddites and fails to provide a useful framework for thinking about the role of technology in education. A better framework, I think, is to start with a course’s learning objectives and consider how a student is helped or hindered in meeting these. I treat the context of a graduate-level programming class differently from a sophomore-level engineering class. The former group certainly benefits from using laptops to work through programming problems in class, but I am also experimenting with having students design test cases by hand and do code-tracing problems on paper with a partner before writing code themselves. I would like to look at some of these interventions more formally and try to learn whether structuring some learning time without computers enhances programming ability.

One interesting research result in this area is that laptops in class are distracting [3]. However, in the time since that study was done, technology has evolved, and tablets have become prevalent. Tablets provide distinct technical tradeoffs from laptops: they are harder to type on but easier to write and draw on. Accordingly, I currently allow them in classes during lecture, while I have students close laptops. The question of technologies allowed in class becomes even more complex with mixed learning modes: while I ban laptops during lecture portions, they are needed duringnumerical simulation activities. These changes call for a new study of the tradeoffs of different technological policies that considers both new technologies as well as more active learning models.

Engineering problem-solving

An area of pedagogical research that pertains specifically to engineering is how to teach students a problem-solving process. One of the most common explanations students give for why they get stuck is “I didn’t know how to start.” While I introduce a list of steps in multiple courses (which vary by discipline, of course) that students can use while solving problems, it takes repetition and reinforcement for them to actually use them. I believe there is room for research into what techniques are most beneficial to student adoption of suggested problem-solving methodologies. Instructors demonstrate problem solving, possibly giving students time to follow along in class, but is modeling sufficient for student adoption, or do we need problem sets structured to encourage systematic work, or do peer groups guide each other to follow a specific set of steps? I would like to explore the best ways to encourage students to become master problem solvers, as this is a skill they will need in any engineering career.

Inclusive teaching

Another area of engineering education I think about a lot is empowering students who are under- represented in engineering. When I taught my first class, I thought the very presence of a female instructor would make the women in the class more likely to ask questions aloud. This was not the case in that first class. However, I have noticed much higher classroom engagement and par- ticipation from female and minority students after adopting the practices described in my teaching statement. I am interested in quantifying the effect some of these practices have on classroom engagement.

Through these different aspects of education, I would like to optimize my teaching and students’ learning through pedagogical research. I have selected these broad areas because they are what I think about most when interrogating my own approach. Each new semester, I ask myself many questions about how to structure class for the best student learning outcomes, and I would like to contribute to the body of knowledge that seeks to provide answers.


[1] K. Coonley, K. Manturuk, J. Miles, G. Lipp, C. Lorch, C. Woodard, and M. Brooke. Massive open online laboratories? ongoing work with microelectronics experiments performed outside of the traditional laboratory. Proceedings of the ASEE Conference and Exposition, 2016.

[2] A. Hilton, G. Lipp, and S. Rodger. The seven steps: A technique for translation from problem to code. 23rd Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, 2018.

[3] Faria Sanaa, Tina Weston, and Nicholas J. Cepeda. Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers. Computers & Education, 2013.