Teaching


Teaching Overview
The courses I teach focus on fundamental issues encountered in the field of Geotechnical Engineering and Geomechanics. This field involves solving problems related with the interaction between soils and man-made infrastructure. I have taught both required and elective courses at the junior, senior, and graduate levels. In these courses, I am charged with providing a professional framework in which to apply the engineering principals that the students have learned at the freshmen and sophomore levels. My goals are (i) to provide students with information that they can take away from the classroom and apply in their work or research, and (ii) provide a structured environment to guide students in thinking independently about implications of decisions. Examples of the courses that I have taught can be found at the links to the left. 

Teaching Philosophy
I try to incorporate a sense of practicality into discussions on design methodologies by presenting case histories in the technical literature. My intention is to show how a design or analysis may differ from reality due to uncertainty in soil properties, non-representative assumptions in the analysis, and unexpected phenomena. I use classroom examples and homework assignments to integrate these components into practical situations that engineers may encounter during a design process. I use exams to challenge the students to apply the concepts they learned in class in ways that they have not necessarily been taught. This is always a controversial process, because students typically prefer to regurgitate facts that they have heard or read, rather than process the facts and generalize them to solve other problems. From discussions with students who have moved on to work in practice or in research, I have found that they enjoy this process after the fact. In graduate courses, I give students reading assignments on “controversial” papers from the past, and then guide a discussion on the issues and their resolution. This helps develop a skeptical approach to reviewing engineering work, which encourages independent thought and builds confidence in critically examining problems.

I integrate aspects from the past and future of geotechnical engineering problems into my lectures. Regarding the past, I am passionate about engineering history, so I try to give the students a perspective on the origins of different problems and the corresponding solutions. Many standard practices in geotechnical engineering are empirical due to the uncertainty involved with solving problems below the ground surface. By understanding the origin of analyses, tests, or designs, I feel that students better grasp the reasons why they are used in practice. Without this perspective, I have found that students rely on their trust of others and will not come up with innovative solutions of their own. Regarding the future, I try to integrate recent research findings from the literature and from my own work into my courses. Geotechnical engineering is constantly evolving as new design methods, new phenomena, and new construction techniques are identified. 

Teaching Approach
In my lectures, I use a tablet PC to annotate PowerPoint slides projected at the front of the classroom. I provide students with a PDF of the PowerPoint slides for a given lecture ahead of time that includes the "bare bones" of the lecture, along with graphs or partially completed derivations. During the lecture, students can write their notes on their printed set of slides as the lecture progresses. This permits complex visuals to be displayed that I cannot draw on the chalkboard and prevents the need to go through multiple steps of a derivation. At the same time, because I am annotating the PowerPoint slides instead of just giving a slide show, students remain engaged by taking notes that they can take away from the class. I use the chalkboard to illustrate examples and clarify certain points.