Fourth Annual TALIS Day Highlights Innovative Learning Strategies

From inclusive classrooms to extended reality (XR) headsets and interdisciplinary team projects, the University of Miami College of Engineering celebrated advanced learning strategies at the fourth annual Teaching and Learning Innovation in STEAM (TALIS) Day conference held March 25 at the Newman Alumni Center.
Fourth Annual TALIS Day Highlights Innovative Learning Strategies
Dean of the College of Engineering Pratim Biswas, Ph.D., making his opening remarks with University of Miami President Julio Frenk and Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Psychology at Reed College Kathryn Oleson, Ph.D., onstage

“This is certainly an exciting time for the College of Engineering as we celebrate its 75th anniversary,” said University of Miami President Julio Frenk. “The college is deeply committed to excellence, which is evidenced by the quality and diversity of its faculty, students, alumni, and curricula.”

Dean Pratim Biswas, Ph.D., welcomed 50 attendees to TALIS Day, whose sessions were moderated by Derin Ural, Ph.D., associate dean of student affairs. “Today, we celebrate and reiterate our commitment to transforming engineering, through innovation that starts in our classroom and extends to our global community,” said Biswas. “I know that our graduates will lead the way, and that our faculty and community are playing a big role in creating innovators of tomorrow in a diverse and inclusive manner.”

Promoting active learning

In his remarks, President Frenk noted that the College has embarked on a journey to redefine engineering education at the University of Miami, including an active learning initiative. “Research has shown that active learning, when compared to the traditional lecture method of teaching, improves failure rates and test scores in STEM courses,” he said.

Frenk added that TALIS Day is an important aspect of this initiative, which aims at a multidisciplinary approach to creating a culture of active learning. “Through collaboration, we can lead the education revolution and solve pressing problems at the convergence of the physical, chemical, biological, digital, and social worlds. Each new discovery and exciting innovation prepares the next generation of engineers to tackle global challenges.” 

Dean Biswas also focused on the College’s cutting-edge research and education, including several new teaching modalities. “I am happy to announce the generous support of the Jose Milton Foundation and our alumna Ana VeigaMilton will enable us to launch some innovative degree programs in software engineering,” he said. “Ana’s generous support over the years has enabled us to create active learning classrooms in the College, and these new programs will connect us to the Miami community and help further grow the Miami tech movement.”

Building inclusive classrooms

Laura Kohn-Wood, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education and Human Development, introduced keynote speaker Kathryn Oleson, Ph.D., dean of the faculty and professor of psychology at Reed College, who spoke on “Promoting Inclusive Classroom Dynamics in STEAM.”

Oleson focused on the benefits of inclusive learning, including greater personal relevance, engagement, and achievement. “In an inclusive college classroom, students and faculty are encouraged to take risks and feel discomfort as they challenge themselves, promote engagement and belonging, and create shared ownership in their own active learning,” she said. “By making education more inclusive, you make it more accurate.”

However, instructors need to learn how to deal with the discomfort inherent in a diverse and inclusive learning environment, Oleson added. That includes confronting one’s one subconscious biases and perceptions.

Oleson then outlined a “universal design for learning” that incorporates multiple ways to structure the “learning space,” both physical and virtual, and allows students to engage with content and demonstrate their knowledge. “Let students make choices in the classroom, but push them to step out of their comfort zone by putting them in new groups,” she added.

Summing up her approach to learning, Oleson said, “An inclusive classroom promotes positive interactions, reduces prejudice, and addresses social comparison concerns. It shows students that struggles are normal and that academic ability is changeable.”

Derin Ural, Ph.D., associate dean of student affairs, Dean Pratim Biswas, Ph.D., alumna and Board Trustee Ana VeigaMilton, Vincent Omachonu, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering, Kathryn Oleson, Ph.D., dean of the faculty and professor of psychology at Reed College, Laura Kohn-Wood, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education and Human Development.
Derin Ural, Ph.D., associate dean of student affairs, Dean Pratim Biswas, Ph.D., alumna and Board Trustee Ana VeigaMilton, Vincent Omachonu, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering, Kathryn Oleson, Ph.D., dean of the faculty and professor of psychology at Reed College, Laura Kohn-Wood, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education and Human Development.

Faculty presentations

Hammam Alsafrjalani, Ph.D., assistant professor in practice at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, presented his experience with “A Flipped Learning Approach for a Hardware and Software Engineering Class.” Students first learn the basic material at home and then dive deeper into the content in the classroom, he said.

“Pre-class quizzes can ease the steep learning curve and compel students to study in advance of assignments,” he said. “The majority of the class time can be used for individual and group problem solving, resulting in promising student outcomes and engagement.”

Lokesh Ramamoorthi, Ph.D., lecturer, spoke on “Lunch Unlearn – Learning Experiences Beyond the Classroom,” referring to his experiences with fall 2021 first-year undergraduate course on computing and digital solutions for the future. He would meet informally with students for coffee or lunch on campus in an informal setting. The course itself included expert guest lecturers, visits to innovation labs and collaborative team activities.

Student-centric teaching promotes active learning and team collaboration from early on, Ramamoorthi said, adding that approachability is one of the key determinants of students’ learning experiences.

Ines Basalo, Ph.D., assistant professor in practice in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, spoke about “Transitioning a Material Science Course to Problem-Based Learning.” She gave an example of project-based learning, revolving around an assignment to select the most appropriate material for a bottle of sparking water. Working as a team, students learned about the various material options, identified key properties for the containers and analyzed the environmental impact, she said.

“Transforming Engineering Education Using Mixed Reality (XR),” was the topic for Diana Arboleda, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering. She outlined how the university’s collaboration with Magic Leap has created new ways for first-year students to understand statics, a challenging foundational course on engineering mechanics.

“Visualization of abstract 3D concepts is vital to success,” she said. “Mixed reality applications and headsets allow multiple students to share the same digital content in their field of vision, even if they are countries or continents apart.” With the assistance of UM Hemispheric and Local Affairs, the college is collaborating with Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico.

Interdisciplinary learning

Innovation, technology, and design come together through a “New Century Incubator Program,” according to industrial engineering alumnus Barbara Millet, Ph.D., director of the University of Miami User Experience (UX) Lab and assistant professor of interactive media at the School of Communication. She presented a new collaborative undergraduate program hosted by the College of Engineering. “Rather than train students in business, engineering or design, we can educate students in all these fields, and more,” she said.

Millet’s talk was followed by Ural’s presentation of a case-based interdisciplinary course addressing global engineering and technology challenges. Two-week project topics included artificial intelligence and health, aerosol science and technology, and resilience and sustainability. For instance, one group of students developed a 3D printed filter to remove algae from Lake Osceola on campus, and gave the filter to Dean Biswas.

Later in the afternoon, Yunqiu Wang, Ph.D., senior lecturer, Department of Biology, spoke on how “Diverse and Inclusive Genomic Studies Enrich Genetic Education.” He noted that genetic variations and disease associations are population specific. “Diverse and inclusive genomic study is not only the right thing to do but also necessary to the success of biomedical research and clinical practice for all humans,” he said.

Reflecting the feelings of participants, Wang added, “TALIS Day is my favorite day on campus. It is great to have an event where professors present their learning and teaching processes to each other.”

As the session drew to a close, Arboleda and Basalo were recognized for receiving the 2020 and 2021 Alexander Orr Jr. Excellence in Teaching Awards. Also, VeigaMilton and Dean Biswas led a “Fireside Chat” with three students: Lauren Rothschild, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering; Taylor Washington, a senior studying industrial engineering; and Jesús Ortiz a first-year Ph.D. student in the Civil and Architectural Engineering Department. The group discussed inclusive learning, digital classroom integration, the importance of mentorship in STEM, and the bright future of the College of Engineering.

Reflecting on TALIS Day, President Frenk said, “Engineering and technological advances are critical in an ever-changing world. As Miami turns a moment of opportunity into a movement around technology, we are uniquely positioned to embrace the challenge and promise of engineering here in Miami – for the world and for the future.”