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Thursday, January 23, 2003

  • It's about quality, says the dean
  • Teacher makes the ordinary extraordinary
  • The talk of the campus
  • Places to go, people to see
Chris Redmond

Somebody's promoting Healthy Weight Week

[In chancellor's robe]

Chancellor named to national honour

Val O'Donovan (left), UW's chancellor, has been named a Member of the Order of Canada -- one of 100 people appointed Companions, Officers or Members by the Governor-General of Canada and announced January 17.

O'Donovan, chancellor since May 1997, will end his term this spring. He is founder of Com Dev International, one of the larger high-technology firms in Waterloo Region, specializing in space communications.

Two people formerly at UW were named to the Order of Canada: Robert Mundell of Columbia University, Nobel Prize winner and one-time chair of UW's department of economics, becoming a Companion, the highest rank in the Order, and Douglas John Hall, Montréal theologian who was the first principal of St. Paul's United College, becoming a Member.

It's about quality, says the dean

UW is facing a quality challenge, the dean of engineering says in his annual report, which was presented on Monday to the annual meeting of the engineering faculty assembly.

Says Sujeet Chaudhuri, whose term as dean will end this summer: "The realities of the 'double cohort' (a massive increase in demand for post-secondary education in Ontario) is already hitting us. Next fall, we expect that competition for admission to our programmes will remain severe, even though we will be admitting 100 more first-year students in our new mechatronics programme.

"Our concerns at this point is not the quality of applicant we will attract, but the availability of adequate incremental resources to maintain -- and hopefully enhance -- quality of our programmes. Although the provincial government has made positive statements on full incremental resources, it has become clear that successful income diversification strategies will be critical to our future success. The private sector will be contributing more to our resources. This means vigilance on our academic integrity and independence will be even more crucial in the future."

Chaudhuri tells his colleagues that the year 2002 "continued the growth and building period" for engineering: "Notwithstanding the economic uncertainties and many challenges, we were able to make significant strides in all spheres of our activities."

He cites some examples:

Says the dean: "Like the previous years, in 2002, we constantly felt the pressure of being under-resourced. We balanced an unavoidable 5.5 percent cut to our operating budget mainly by increasing the undergraduate tuition fees by 15 percent.

"With all the stress on our faculty, staff and the students, the fact that we were able to make the impressive progress reported above is a remarkable testimonial to the commitment of our colleagues in the Faculty."

[Chaudhuri] Later in his report, Chaudhuri (right) notes some specifics of what was done in engineering during 2002, including the launch of the Master of Engineering graduate program as an alternative to the traditional MASc.

He also has a few words about plans for the undergraduate program: "The first-year class of 2003 will come with a mix of different academic backgrounds -- OAC, OSS and a mixture of OAC/OSS. Because the OSS curriculum does not include some subjects that the OAC students have, the Engineering Mathematics Committee has worked with the Mathematics Faculty to develop new algebra and calculus courses for Year One that will bring all first-year students to the same level of skill.

"Since most of the first-year students will be a year younger than the freshmen in previous years, we have built on support programmes already in place by adding more counselling service and by adding more tutors, teaching assistants and volunteer (peer) tutors and mentors.

"When double-cohort arrives at Waterloo in September 2003, 100 of those students will form the first class of the new Mechatronics Engineering Programme. The programme is a response to strong industry demand. It integrates mechanical engineering, electronics, control systems, and computers to create computer-controlled electro-mechanical systems. Housed in the Mechanical Engineering department, with about half of the second-and third-year courses coming from Electrical and Computer Engineering and Systems Design Engineering, the program includes more than a dozen specifically designed mechatronics (MTE) courses. A strong emphasis on team design is reflected in the curriculum."

Teacher makes the ordinary extraordinary -- Donna Ellis writes in Teaching Matters, a newsletter from the teaching resource office

Wayne Brodland, a faculty member in UW's Civil Engineering department, has a knack for turning "ordinary" items into memorable teaching aids. As I sat in his office, he illustrated concepts, such as thin-walled structures and the effects of loads, through everyday items like tinfoil and rubber balls. To Wayne, physical models always "tell the truth" and can really help his students understand key concepts in his courses.

One day he found a piece of foam that had been used as packing for a new computer. He took it to his office, drew a grid on it, and has used it ever since to explain bending of beams. Its pliability enables him to illustrate clearly how and where a beam contracts and expands when it is supporting a load. This simple prop is portable and very inexpensive, yet it is very helpful to his students. "I encourage my students to handle the models and will often take them to more than one class," says Wayne. He has had some very successful models built by the Engineering Machine Shop staff, but often uses objects around him to illustrate the concepts in his courses.

[At lectern] How does he decide when a model would be helpful? "I listen to my students' questions in order to determine what is unclear to them," Brodland (right) explains.

His students couldn't agree more, finding the models very memorable and helpful. Wayne did volunteer that not all of his attempts at models have worked, but for the most part they are a quick and easy way to add an extra dimension to his teaching and enable his students to see the course concepts in action.

Wayne also aids his students' understanding of the course material through fill-in course notes. Although he varies how much white space to leave based on the course level, he generally leaves about 30% of each page blank. Students are expected to follow along with the notes and fill in material such as steps in a derivation; numerical answers; blanks in tables, matrices, or figures; and worked problems.

His latest innovation with this method involves using styles within Word to create one document for both student and instructor notes. He uses Word's hidden text style to hide his own notes within the students' notes. He puts his notes in a different colour, such as burgundy, and makes them bold and italicized. Then he burns the Word document onto a CD and takes that to his classes. He has found that he can project this Word document via a data projector and show the students his version of their notes. He uses a full screen mode which shows about half a page of the notes at once. He can scroll down through the document one line at a time.

He cautions instructors to check that the coloured text can be seen with the available room lighting. However, he notes that this is easy to change if your colour is defined using a style. He also mentioned that instructors need to carefully format the notes so that the student set includes enough white space (When hidden text is not printed, Word does not replace the non-printing text with an equivalent amount of blank space). And he mentioned that it could be easy to lecture too quickly when the notes are pre-made. However, he redraws items such as critical diagrams to pace himself and help students understand the process by which the diagrams are developed.

Once again, his students appreciate his efforts since they always know where he is in their notes, and he appreciates how easy it is to maintain and use these integrated notes -- another adaptation of an "ordinary" tool to facilitate student understanding.

The talk of the campus

Work is beginning to write a history of UW's engineering faculty, says an article in the new issue of WEAL, the newsletter for alumni from engineering. A "history project committee" includes the dean and several colleagues, as well as Patrick Harrigan, chair of UW's history department. "Please share your memories," alumni are urged. "The committee's focus is on the first 25 years (1957-1982), with particular emphasis on the formative first 10 years." Among the questions of interest: "Why did students choose Waterloo? What did students think of the curriculum and the professors? What was it really like to be a student in those days?"

A gift from "Colonel Sam" McLaughlin, who sold his automobile company to General Motors in 1918 and became the first president of GM Canada, has come to UW thirty years after his death. The $250,000 gift, to support teaching and research in applied health sciences, is part of nearly $200 million the foundation has given to universities, hospitals, museums and other agencies. But the latest gift will be the last: when the colonel created the R. Samuel McLaughlin Foundation in 1951, he arranged that it should operate for 50 years and then wind up its affairs. "Since 1982," says the development office's annual donor report, "the foundation has donated $900,000 to UW including $500,000 towards the AHS Building Fund."

There was an ad in yesterday's Gazette formally setting out the job of dean of graduate studies, which is currently occupied on an "interim" basis while a nominating committee carries out the required search. Wanted: "a scholar of considerable stature, with a proven record as an academic administrator, researcher, and teacher sufficient for a tenured appointment as a full Professor. The initial five-year appointment will begin on July 1, 2003, or as soon as possible thereafter." Inquiries go to the consulting firm that has helped UW on a number of previous searches for top people: Janet Wright & Associates, in Toronto.

Among the reports that came this week to the annual meeting of the engineering faculty assembly was one from Wayne Loucks, the associate dean (undergraduate studies). A tidbit: "The number of women in the first-year class has stabilized to almost one-quarter of the class (23% in 1999 and 2000, 24% in 2001 and 23% in 2002). The distribution among the programmes has also improved, with at least 10% women in all programmes."

The staff association nominating committee is looking for staff representatives on the UW joint health and safety committee, the works of art and gallery committee, the Employee Assistance Program committee, and the nominating committee itself. Interested? Anne Jenson in the Institute for Computer Research (jajenson@icr), the chair of the nominating committee, can provide more information.

Bruce Campbell writes from the engineering computing service: "The Waterloo Polaris system will be retired on May 1. The Windows 2000 based Nexus system has now replaced Waterloo Polaris in most locations. There are still approximately 300 Waterloo Polaris computers scattered across campus in public labs and some in private offices, most of which will be converted to Nexus within the next few months. Waterloo Polaris was developed by UW staff, and went into service in 1997. It was based, in part, on its predecessor Watstar, which was also locally developed, and went into service in 1984."

Places to go, people to see

With the student pubs still shut down, I suppose the scheduled pajama party won't be happening tonight at Federation Hall. But otherwise the campus is busy indeed. . . .

A "design project symposium" showing off the work of fourth-year electrical and computer engineering students continues in the Davis Centre, today running from 8:30 to 3:30. There are displays in the building's lobby and presentations in a nearby lecture room, on inventions ranging from "electronic cheques" to "long-range autonomous sailcraft". Everyone's welcome to listen in.

"Working Outside of Canada" is the topic of a session today in the career services workshop series. It starts at 2:30. Information and registration is on the web.

[Seen from the ring road]

The CECS building doesn't look like this at present -- there's snow outside, folks. But use your imagination. As for what's inside the building, you don't need to do any more imagining: tours are being offered at 12:00 and 12:30 today, tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday. Meet in the main lobby. "Groups can call to arrange a suitable time," says Lisa Mack, working this term as communications associate in the co-op education and career services department.

The Interdisciplinary Coffee Talk Society continues its monthly sessions with a talk today by Chris Eliasmith of the philosophy department, whose research on neural engineering was described at length in yesterday's Gazette. Eliasmith will speak tonight on "Computation Neuroscience: From Single Neurons to Cognitive Systems". Everyone is welcome at the ICTS session, which starts at 5 p.m. at the Graduate House.

Fall term marks should be available today on the Quest system. . . . There's a Sicilian special today ("zuppa di cozze al pomodoro", translated as "fresh mussels steamed in a tomato and wine broth") as Ground Zero restaurant in the Student Life Centre continues Italian Week. . . . UW alumni in Vancouver will meet president David Johnston and the director of the new Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology, Howard Armitage, at a reception tonight at the Vancouver Museum. . . .

An "eco-adventure" field trip to Costa Rica is planned for May 2 to 13, says Jeff DeLoyde, third-year environmental engineering student. Anybody interested in the trip, organized by JourneySouth, can find out more at a meeting tonight: 5:30 p.m., multi-purpose room of the Student Life Centre.

The Thursday night movies, organized by the Math Society, this week are "Undercover Brother" at 7:00 and "The Bourne Identity" at 9:00. Admission is $2; the location is Math and Computer room 2017.

UW's winter ACM programming contest is scheduled for Saturday; more information is available on the web. . . . A blood donor clinic will be held in the Student Life Centre Monday to Thursday of next week, and there's a sign-up sheet now at the turnkey desk. . . .


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