Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Learning by Teaching

While in elementary school, I remember a teacher once wrote on the board:
You learn 8% of what you read,
you learn 12% of what you hear,
you learn 25% of what you write,
you learn 90% of what you teach.

The concept of learning by teaching has stuck with me throughout the years and has been re-inforced through my tutoring in high-school, joining study groups as an undergrad student, and later developing controls curriculum at Quanser. But how true the words of my teacher are I realized only as a Teaching Assistant of a controls lab at Queen's University. As a part of my Masters degree, I spent a term TA-ing a 4th year Robotics course at Queen's. The lab component of the course was based on Quanser's rotary family of experiments, which - incidentally - I had spent my first year at Quanser developing.

Even after specializing in controls during undergrad, I always say that it wasn't until my time at Quanser that I really learnt controls. It was while working on controls curriculum to pedagogically guide students through a control system experiment where I really needed to understand and learn control theory - once again, it was learning by teaching. And it was only years later, being a teaching Assistant at Queen's and actually delivering that same curriculum to the 4th year students, when my expertise truly took hold. it was also during this brief stint as a Teaching Assistant that I could benefit from the feedback provided by students - another form of learning by teaching, and bring back their comments to improve Quanser controls curriculum in general.

What I noticed during the Robotics course was that the students would benefit from more time spent playing with the experiment and trial-error type of work. However, there might not be enough time during the lab for that. What we can do instead is give that time to the students during pre-lab. The new version of Quanser's real-time control software QuaRC 2.0 has powerful visualization tools - why not to use the power of QuaRC and add a pre-lab component that would visually and dynamically represent Quanser's experiment. That way, students would get to the lab having a context and feel of the experiment and learn much more during the actual lab.

It's exciting to see how the principle of learning by teaching works for engineering team at Quanser. In our dynamic and multi-disciplinary group, every engineer brings certain expertise - to "teach" other team members, one must "learn" and understand his or her part. Working on multi-faceted projects, developing new controls experiments and refining existing labs and curriculae, we continue to improve the quality of our offerings as we are always learning by teaching.

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