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Chris Muir: Turning to digital representations

Chris Muir, professor of mechanical engineering, is in charge of the department’s senior design projects.

chris muirHow are you thinking about or preparing for the transition to online classes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? 
A lot has happened in just the past few days. The students are under a significant amount of stress. It is important that they know that we have their back and are trying to get them through this situation as well as the courses that they are taking from us. Their normal support group is fractured and things that were easy 2 weeks ago may not be so easy today.  

How is it affecting your thinking about teaching? 
As the students move to their new situations it is important that we allow for consistent opportunity and experiences for the rest of the semester. We will need to modify our expectations in many cases and consider things case-by-case.

 Where we were able to sit with a student previously 1:1 and work with them to understand a concept, often until they said “OK, I get It”, now will likely turn in to an emoji (thumbs up hopefully). It will take some time to be as proficient as in-person meetings.

Have you encountered any specific obstacles? What are they and how are you planning to overcome them?

 The courses I teach are heavily technology-based. We use software to design hardware that we build and often program. Since the build part cannot be done in the same manner, we are turning to more purely digital representations. This is probably closer to what the students may experience in industry in the same time span (16-week design cycles do not often include build and test). Getting the right technology and software in the students’ hands across the globe is a challenge. The IT folks are rolling out some new capabilities to take advantage of campus hardware – I sent a note to Mike Maskalans asking if he had heard about the whole online thing – I could hear the laughter through the email thread. They are working on it….