Q&A with Teaching Award Winner Andrew Barnard

Andrew Barnard, second from left, and students examine item.
Andrew Barnard, second from left, and students examine item.
Students appreciate Barnard's hands on teaching.

Andrew Barnard is the recipient of Michigan Technological University’s 2019 Distinguished Teaching Award in the Assistant Professor/Lecturer/Professor of Practice category. 

Distinguished Teaching Award 

Since 1982, the annual Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award has been awarded in two categories: Associate Professor/ Professor and Lecturer/Professor of Practice/Assistant Professor. The award nomination and review processes are student-driven; finalists are selected based on student ratings regarding quality of instruction. Winners receive $2,500 and a plaque at an awards dinner sponsored by the President’s office in the fall. 

Thomas Werner is recipient of Michigan Technological University’s 2019 Distinguished Teaching Award in the Associate Professor/Professor Category. 

Barnard, recently promoted to associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering-Engineering (MEEM) department,  knows what it’s like to be a Michigan Tech student; he earned both his bachelor’s (2002) and master’s (2004) degrees in mechanical engineering at Tech before heading to Penn State for a PhD in acoustics, work he completed in 2010. Barnard spent eight years as a research associate in the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State before returning to the MEEM department as an assistant professor in 2014.

Along with his promotion in early May 2019, Barnard was also named the next director of the Great Lakes Research Center, beginning July 1. 

"Dr. Barnard is an exceptional teacher who engages students with their learning. I was able to witness Andrew in action on Preview Day where the audience of admitted students and their families had a chance to hear and see his interactive presentation and engage one-on-one afterward. He made a great first impression of what Michigan Tech has to offer. His teaching conveys his genuine curiosity and ongoing interest in using science to engineer solutions to applied problems." Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering

Q: What does this award mean to you? 

A: It means a lot to me, especially because it's based on student evaluations. Because they're really the customer, that's who I'm here to help. To me it means that they think I'm doing a good job delivering my content to them, which is really what professors are: content providers. And there are a lot of content providers out there, so it's nice to know I can compete.

"He starts each lecture period with a recap of the last session and an opportunity for students to ask questions."Student comment

Q: How would you describe your teaching style? 

A: I'm very hands on. I like to have classroom demos and all of my courses have laboratories attached to them. I like to bring my industrial and government experience into the classroom, so I give a lot of examples of things I've seen in the past that relate to topics we're talking about on a given day. I like to be very interactive, like to have lots of questions, and try not to rely too much on PowerPoints, though sometimes I still fall into that trap but I try not to. I'm open to changing the plan so when students have questions, we'll veer off on those and go and explore, which I think they appreciate; we can always tie it back to whatever we're trying to talk about. I think that flexibility is appreciated by students. 

Q: Who or what has inspired your hands-on teaching style? Is that how you like to learn?

I come from a long line of teachers. My mother was a kindergarten teacher and both my grandmothers were teachers. When you’re a kindergarten teacher, everything is hands-on or you’re not going to survive the day. But, yes, it is how I like to learn and I had lots of professors that were really good at that, too. I had lots of great professors when I was a student here at Michigan Tech; Chuck Van Karsen is a good example. Chuck was a terrific professor, knew the material back and forth, but would take the time to teach it to you. And was an experimentalist, which is what I am at heart, too, so everything we did related to something that we were doing in the laboratory or some example in class related to something realistic to industry, as opposed to just being an equation. He was always showing us how we can relate the pieces of that equation to things in real life that we touch every day. I thought those types of lessons were really helpful in learning the material, so I try to bring those kinds of things into my classes as well. I've had so many good professors it's hard to single out just a few. 

 About the Researcher

The other thing that I've been doing lately is experimenting with different grading schemes, which I got the itch for when I took David Olson's class as a student. I took his real analysis class and we did things other than get graded for our scores on assignments, so I've been experimenting with trying to get rid of the percentage grade. I use now what I call a traffic light grading system: green, yellow, red. So if you get green, you get all the points for that assignment, it basically means you did B or better work. If you get a yellow, it means maybe you understand the concepts but you haven't executed them right, or you understand the execution but you don't get the concepts, you didn't put it together right. And then if you get red it means you're totally lost, but it doesn't mean you failed because you have opportunities to then go back and try to redo it to gain some points back.

The students appreciate that opportunity to actually learn from their mistakes instead of just "Here's your grade and you gotta live with it for the rest of the semester." It's been pretty successful. 

Another big success that I've implemented with that grading system is exam debriefs. I give an exam in class and then that night I'll have all the students come back and I'll just sit in the back of the room, it's up to them to do whatever they want to do, they can talk about the exam and they try to teach themselves how to do the problems correctly. And what's really fun is when you get two different groups of students that did the problem differently and either get the same answer or get different answers because a lot of times you can do it different ways and get the same answer. That's good, but if you did it different ways and got different answers, now you got to figure out which one's right. And I let them figure that out. And if they want to try to retake [the exam] later they can retake it. 

Q: How did you come up with that idea? 

A: Well, like any good academic, I stole it from someone else! I was at a meeting about three years ago for the Acoustical Society of America where we were talking about teaching strategies and this was one idea that came up; I sort of modified it a little bit. 

Q: How do you stay quiet during the debriefs? 

A: The students want you to talk. They'll ask a question and the whole class will look back at me and I'll just throw up my hands and say "this is for you." The only thing I'll answer is if they have a question on how they are interpreting the exam question. If I wrote a bad question, I'll fix that in the debrief, but I'm not going to tell them how to do it. 

Q: What are some of the ways you find support for your teaching? 

A: I really like to have small, focused, teaching sessions at highly technical conferences instead of going to a teaching conference and just talking about teaching because then you get the technical experts talking about how they teach technical material. I've gotten a lot of good ideas that way. Not that I haven't gotten ideas from teaching conferences as well, but it's interesting because we get the perspective in those types of sessions of not just academics, but we'll have industry people come in and say "This is what we need our students to know," or "When I'm teaching a new hire how to do this, this is how I teach them so that they understand." And then I can go, "Ah, I should do some of that in my classroom!" I'm part of a couple different groups, one in the Acoustical Society of America and one in the Institute of Noise Control Engineering and both of those organizations are pushing hard to have educational tracks within the technical conference, which has been really good for everyone, I think.

"[Barnard teaches] things that will be incredibly useful outside of classwork."Student comment

Q: Do you have a favorite course or lesson to teach? 

A: I love my acoustics and noise control class because that's really my field of expertise. That's where I can dive in deepest. I teach vibration classes and other things but I really do love teaching my acoustics and noise control class and I think it shows: students can tell. I also really enjoy the SENSE (Strategic Education through Naval Systems Experience) Enterprise because I love hands on work and I love student design projects. I'm really big on the design process. And I think a lot of times it does our students a disservice to just stand up in front of the class and lecture. In Enterprise I like to tell students I don't do anything, they do everything, I'm just there to make sure they don't go off the rails; to help them work through that design process, to watch them fail and help them pick themselves up and succeed. It’s really fun for me.

Q: It’s clear you really care about teaching; any particular reason why?

A: Teaching is fun for me. For me it's more about giving back. I had a lot of really great teachers who gave me a lot and I feel like I owe it to the students to give that back to them. That's one of the reasons I'm at Michigan Tech; before I was here I was a faculty researcher and all I did was research. And I really wanted more student interaction so that was a big draw for me to come here. 

"Andrew is highly regarded by his students. His teaching evaluations have consistently been in the top 10% of faculty teaching evaluations since he started at Michigan Tech. He is able to bring his excitement for his research into the classroom in a way that resonates with his students. This recognition by students is very well deserved."William Predebon, Department Chair, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics 

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.