We're a little crazy, about science!

Day #278: Teaching… virtually

virtual teaching

We are about to start the big summer internship program at school. I’m actually kind of excited about it. I enjoy teaching and mentoring and this is just as much a chance for me to learn as for the people I work with. However, this year we are doing it all virtually, so there are some growing pains and a lot of challenges that come along with this. Let’s look at what I will be teaching this year and how I’m going to deal with the need to teach virtually.

Next week we have several different internship programs that kick off bringing people from all over the world together to learn from our lab and others. As previously mentioned we have roughly 20 students coming to our lab alone! In total there are about 100 students that are coming from three different pathways to our school. We have the research experience for undergrads (REU), the summer undergrad research fellowship (SURF), and a program for high school students, but I can’t recall the somewhat convoluted name they gave to that program.

Needless to say, lots of people. However, with COVID-19 we are (thankfully) doing our part to keep everyone safe so this will be a virtual internship for our students. While that isn’t as fun as hands on, it will give them a chance to see what it’s like working with our lab. For the 10 weeks they will be with us we are also planning to do a series of seminars to teach them (and our fellow lab members) useful techniques that we know. I’ll be handling two different classes this year. One will be nice and short at 1 or 2 sessions max, the other could be long if we wanted, but I think I’m going to keep it to 3 sessions over one week.

Because of my background I will be handling the engineering design courses. Namely I will be teaching solid modeling and 3D printing techniques. Considering that in our lab I’m usually the one learning things and feeling helpless, this will be a nice change of pace for me! The best part about my classes are that switching to a virtual setting may actually make all this easier! Well at least the solid modeling class.

With a computer in front of everyone I can lecture my class while they are doing the things I am doing in real-time. That means if they have a problem, we can stop and address it. In the lab we may not have had a way for everyone to see my computer while they are all on their own computers, the lab isn’t set up for that, so this is actually going to be really helpful. Plus I plan on teaching the students using a free software. I haven’t settled on one in particular, but it will most likely be the free version of sketchup because it is a very powerful software that will let me get into some really creative projects. Plus, it doesn’t require a supercomputer to run, so this should work with even the most basic of laptops. I know because my laptop runs it just fine and it’s almost 8 years old now, or a fossil in laptop years.

The 3D printing course will be somewhat of a challenge. It will probably end up being a hybrid of teaching them about material properties and best practices for 3D printing. Over all, I think even in this case I should be okay and there is some software to download for that as well that is free, so we could theoretically do the solid modeling class, then show them how to import whatever they made into the 3D printing software and get it ready to print. The only downside is that we will not be able to do any actual printing and I doubt the students will all have their own 3D printers. So as much as I want to make my classes accessible for all, there are going to be limitations. They will at least learn the basics and that’s important.

That is the plan anyway, hopefully it goes over well. I’m still working out the details with my PI, but I think this will be a useful thing for the students to learn. Technically we are in a brain-machine interface lab, but being able to 3D print the hardware you need to do experiments or build prosthetics is another step that we sometimes skip. At the end of the day, while I’m still the black sheep of the lab doing my spinal research, I’m going to be passing on some useful information and that’s all that really matters.

But enough about us, what about you?

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