Dr. Basile Panoutsopoulos
of Teaching Philosophy by Basile Panoutsopoulos, PhD
Members of the search committee:
I would like to share
with you some thoughts on teaching in a post secondary academic
institution. I must say, first and foremost, that I see teaching not as
static but as dynamic and ever evolving process, ever improving and
never perfected. My views have been shaped during my years as a student
and later as a professional working in the industry as well as a college
teacher. As a student, I carry the experiences from being student a
Greece and the USA. I have had the fortune to have teachers that became,
for me, an example to follow. These teachers encouraged me to pursue
further studies and eventually I realized my dream of becoming an
academic teacher. As a college teacher, I had the opportunity to offer
my students all good things I had acquired as a student and a
As a professional
working in the industry, I had the opportunity to get the experience
that otherwise would have been impossible for me to acquire. I became a
participant to all phases of a product, from conceiving an idea, to
proposing, to funding, to research, to development, to acquisition, to
supervision, to prototyping, to final production, to documenting the
work done and presenting the results to various audiences.
|The Beginnings - A short
My first contact with
electricity was at a course, Experimental Physics in the sixth
grade. After that, I would continuously work with electricity,
collecting, wires, switches, old radios, and electrical components. I
made my first circuit using a battery, a bulb, and a switch. But the
switch was connected the wrong way (in parallel), the light will go off
when the switch was closed, but the battery will overheat, requiring
another one the next day! When I was in the ninth grade, a neighbor who
was studying Electronic Engineering Technology and who tutored me
in Mathematics, gave me a book: Technology of Electronic Components.
This event was a turning point for me. It introduced me to the plethora
of electronic components and the practical aspects of building circuits.
At the same time, I was taking a class on General Physics: Mechanics,
Waves, and Electricity. Although I had wanted to become a college
teacher ever since high school, it took me a long time to appreciate
fully what such a vocation truly entailed. In my first years as a
laboratory assistant and then as an instructor, I thought the sole task
was to deliver the best courses possible. I learned whatever I could to
master the art of teaching, experimented with numerous techniques and
strategies, developed new courses, and constantly revised old ones. The
students’ evaluations, along with their performance on papers and
exams, gave me the feedback I needed and guided me in my first steps as
a teacher. During my Graduate studies, I discovered the other side of
the profession, the Research. I enjoyed this new dimension,
conducting guided and independent research, being a member of a team,
and publishing papers.
|Schooling - Training -
||A well-rounded education includes professional training
and humanistic values. The professional training includes theoretical
knowledge and practical skills. The role of the university is to prepare
a well-rounded person, a useful citizen. The general education courses
provide most of the well-rounded education. The major courses
contribute, mostly, to the professional development of the person. The
need for education has been recognized since ancient times and continues
to today. The post secondary education shall not limit itself to
schooling by requiring simply courses to be taken, shall not limit
itself to training by providing professional skills, but must develop a
well round person by providing the good education, paideia, that
teaches a student to think and enable adults to be life-long learners.
It is paideia that makes a difference in distinguishing a person.
|The Scientist – The
Engineer – The Technologist – The Technician:
It is very important for the student to know the
whole spectrum of grades in the profession. Although the transition from
one to another is not sharp but there is a gray and overlapping area,
knowing the whole spectrum is important not to restrict but to clarify
what is expected, what will be the approach, and where the student
stands. A student, based on his or her natural inclination, will choose
the appropriate and natural discipline for his/her abilities and grade
of study, where can excel. The Scientist discovers the laws of nature;
the Engineer applies the physical laws to solve practical problems, the
Technologists uses currently available technologies to implement the
solution, while the Technical realizes the solutions. All professions
are linked and important to the well being of humans.
|The Academician – The
Teacher – The Student - The Scholar – The Researcher – The Citizen:
A view of the college teacher:
The same person, the
college teacher, carries all theses roles. The characteristics of these
roles distinguish the person and make him/her a positive contributor to
the society. All these functions require and result in a mature and
well-rounded person. It is these characteristics that give to the
university teacher special rights and obligations.
A College professor is
first of all a student, a student of Science and a student of his/her
students. I personally can recall many instances, where various meanings
became “clear” to me as I was preparing to explain them to my
students. And I found myself searching for a better understanding of a
concept after a question from a student to explain it. And of course, I
enjoyed the opportunity to explain a concept and transmit the knowledge
during a lecture or an office visit.
As a professional with
more that ten years industrial experience, I do have an understanding of
the practical importance of otherwise unnoticed matters. I can recall
when teaching about electric sources in an Electric Circuits course; I
gave an assignment to the students, to find the data sheets of various
battery cells (AAA, AA, C, D). Some students went on to complain for the
“kind” of homework; a kind they were not used to. I elaborated to
them on the importance of the electrical, mechanical, chemical, thermal,
etc. characteristics of the batteries and their importance on the
operation and overall performance of the system they are a part of. They
understood that a battery is not simply a battery but there are other
factors to be considered.
The College teacher is a
Researcher of Science in its own narrow field, contacts research,
involves his/her students into it, collaborates with his colleagues,
consults with the industry and publishes the findings. But in addition
to the narrow field of each one of us, there are areas that are better
served by an interdisciplinary team, where everybody makes a
contribution as looks from his/her own optical angle.
Ethics is an important
factor that is found in every contact with the college teacher. The
teacher must set the example professionally and socially, of ethical
conduct and transmit the ethical values is to his/her students.
As a member of the
society, the college teacher, is called to be an example of a citizen.
Respecting the laws, abiding to ethical values, practicing justice, and
being a light of inspiration.
We can simply define
learning as the process of acquisition of either skills or knowledge or
both. The university level education provides both, skills and
knowledge, at different levels. Learning is taking place through
lecturing by a direct transfer of knowledge from the teacher to the
student. This takes place in the lecture or reading a book. Students
learn mostly through lecture, while professionals extend their knowledge
reading professional books, attending on job training, and attending
short courses. Also, knowledge is acquired by thinking and building on
previous acquired knowledge. Through lectures, a teacher can help the
students in their first steps to learn to think and build on previous
knowledge to extend their knowledge, and to find an answer to a
question. Additionally, skills are learned in a laboratory and a
recitation environment. In the laboratory, a student acquires practical
skills on how to use instruments, how to use equipment, how to
manufacture components and systems. In the recitation period, a student
learns skills on how to use basic principles to solve practical
The first leaning takes
places near a teacher, since ancient times, and this makes the role of
the teacher important, justified through the history. Learning, at the
professional life, is usually a self-learning or peer supported. Of
course, the distinction between skills, and knowledge, and instruction
in a school environment, and self-learning, is not clear. People are
distinct persons with various personal abilities. This makes the role of
the teacher more important as is called to be a teacher in various
environments, from the traditional lecturer, to laboratory instructor,
to a continuous education teacher.
We can simply define teaching
as the method that is used to transmit skills and knowledge. The teacher
is called to implement the proper and suitable method to transmit the
skills and knowledge. It is the teaching method and the instructor’s
personality that makes a teacher more or less successful.
Every teacher has
his/her own approach to teaching. I personally believe that a teacher
must introduce the basic concepts to the student, and stimulate the
student by actively involving him or her in a discussion asking
appropriate questions. The teaching must be a lecture – live
discussion of the topic under consideration to actively involved
audiences and not simply a monolog to a passive audience. The student
should not come to the classroom to copy the teacher’s notes from the
board at the expense of participation.
Teaching takes place
mainly in the classroom, and the laboratory but my office is always open
for those seeking extra help. My experience indicates that the office is
the place that a special bond develops between the teacher and the
|Goals for Students:
When a student registers
for a class, we have an agreement between the student and the
university. The product to be delivered, the course material, is
described in the university’s Catalog. Further details as clarified in
the instructor’s syllabus (that I always make available during the
first class meeting and is continuously updated on the web with further
links). We can think the student as a customer (in a market
environment). The student is the customer of the teacher, the
department, the school, and the university’s. When the product (course
material, teaching) is of good quality, the customer will be happy, more
customers will arrive, and the school will get a good name.
I provide at a minimum
what is commonly agreeable. I always offer the possibility for extra
work in more specialized topics. I found out, early on in my career,
that not all students want to get an A in a required course. And this is
natural, as not all students will major in Electromagnetics. I encourage
these students that want to major in Electromagnetics, to take advanced
specialized courses, and I involve them in my research. To all my
students I present the world after graduation by providing trade
magazines and newspapers that I subscribe.
I am not a crowd
pleaser. I do not give inflated grades in exchange for good evaluations.
I read the evaluations carefully, and I pay special attention to the
ones that include comments. I have values, ethics, and goals. I treat
all my students equally and fairly. I would like to transmit these
values by example to them. To all my students I am available for
assistance at all times. My reward is at the end of the semester when I
receive a handshake with a simple Thank you or a Thank you card.
Organization of a
class meeting: the Lecture – The Recitation – The Laboratory
I follow few simple
principles in organizing my lectures:
- State Subject and Goals.
- Review pertinent material.
- Introduce new concept with an example.
- Develop formally the topic.
- Stimulate questions and ask questions. Discuss the
- Relate topic with other areas and practice.
- Solve an example
- Point out practical applications
- Assign homework and discuss homework.
It is in the lecture
that students come in contact with the new material and where most of
the learning takes place. I use modern technological tools like,
presentation slides, computer algebra systems (CAS), the Internet,
demonstrations, etc. in order to attract the attention of the students,
provide demonstrations, and make the learning process more enjoyable.
The course, whenever possible, is organized as an living subject
that finds applications in our lives.
Individual and teamwork
are emphasized. The assignments reflect both realities. For the teamwork
I always emphasize the reality in the industry: your colleagues are
there to provide you with help but it is up to you to solve the problem
and you are ultimately responsible for the provided solution. The
homework assignments reflect current industrial approaches using
available technological innovations. Homework includes both pure
and applied problems. Use of a computer algebra system is
required, along with use of industrial software, some in its student
version. The reports must be typed and professionally organized.
The recitation is a
non-obligatory session that I conduct, one hour per week, on a time
mutually agreed on by all students, whenever practically possible, and
it is possible in most of the cases. The recitation period does not
cover any new material. It is a problem solving and a questions and
answers session. Students, in general, take the opportunity to meet with
the instructor and the other classmates in an informal setting. The
emphasis is not to provide solutions, I could have post them, but to
discuss the methodology or methodologies to solve a problem, properly
and accurately make necessary assumption and approximations, and discuss
the meaning and consequence of the results.
The laboratory session
helps to clarify everything learned. I organize the laboratory around a
problem that the student solves analytically, if possible, simulates
using an available simulation program, and prepares an experimental
setup to measure the quantities under consideration. At the end, the
student compares the three different approaches, analytical, simulation,
and experimental, thus having the opportunity to appreciate and become
familiar with industry approaches and methods.
During the various
interactions with the student, I always provide them with handouts of
the material covered and further topics; I use presentations slides,
solve examples and emphasize how a physical principle can be used to
solve a practical problem. The problems discussed cover both analysis
I believe that the
student must develop critical thinking while still in school. I strongly
disagree with memorization. During the examinations, I provide Tables
and Formulas. Sometimes the textbook is allowed, too. In Homework,
Recitations and Laboratories, discussion is encouraged along with
individual responsibility. The critical thinking is valued. This is the
industrial environment the student will encounter after graduation.
|The World after Graduation:
It is during the school
years and especially during the senior year that the student should be
prepared for the transition to the industrial world or to advanced
The senior project
course or courses is one crucial step that helps the student to put
everything the student learned together. I go a step further and I make
sure that they become familiar with other aspects of the professional
life by immersing them into the industrial life by distributing:
|Commercial Software (Professional and Light versions)|
The purpose of the
university is to provide general and professional education, to form a
person, to prepare a useful citizen. The general education shapes the
responsible citizen and this is accomplished mainly by the core
curriculum courses. The professional development takes place mainly by
the major required and elective courses.
After graduation with a
baccalaureate degree a student will either enter the industrial
workforce or will continue to graduate studies. I discuss both options
with my students and share with them my experiences but I let them
choose their path, appreciating and supporting their decisions and
making myself available when they need me.
My Future Plans:
Having seen both the
academic and industrial world, I decided to return back full time in the
academia. My immediate plans include:
|Organize a series of courses in my area of expertise.|
|Develop the sequence: Lecture – Recitation –
|Involve my students in my research and publish with
|Supervise Senior Projects in my area of expertise.|
|Finish writing my book on Electromagnetics.|
|Serve my department, school, and University in various
|Serve my department, school, and University in various
|Promote undergraduate and graduate interdisciplinary
|Continue my education through Continuous Education
It has been a long road
from the first time I went to school as a student and the first time I
entered the classroom as a grader and as a teacher. I take with me the
good things I learned, I improve them, I add more and I transmit them to
my students. Teaching is a heuristic process. It approaches the optimum
between the boundaries of students, instructor, technology, available
resources, subject matter, etc.
I realize that there are
many more issues to discuss and share. Future un-ended discussions
trying to find the “Best” teaching philosophy can be the forum. All
of these form my dynamic and ever-evolving teaching philosophy, the
world of the Academician.
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