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When it comes to circuits, sometimes the best learning opportunities are in the lab, says Al Molnar. "Once, in ECE2100 lab, a group's op-amp circuit started buzzing audibly...no piece of theory (or computer software) would have predicted that!" he says. "But we were able to come up with a circuit explanation. This is why lab is so key: teaching students the difference between theory and reality."
His teaching is real-life example-driven. "I try to motivate each development in class with a real-life example, such that any given piece of theory is clearly motivated by some practical problem, and any derived result can be related back to that problem," he says. Molnar loves it "when students really learn things, such that they start predicting and intuiting circuit behavior beyond any example taught in class."
In every lecture, Molnar has learned to include a worked example or two in his notes to illustrate or introduce an important idea. "These can be either solved by me, or by the class as an active learning exercise," he says. "If everyone is awake and paying attention, I work the examples myself. If not, then I require the class to solve them 'with their neighbor,' under threat that I might call on them. This takes longer but wakes everyone up and guarantees they grasp the concept."
Molnar stopped holding office hours, holding them instead during discussion section on weeks homework is due. "More people get attention that way, since my office hours are during a scheduled class time" he says.
Molnar has found that, at least when teaching circuit analysis and design, it is much more effective to lecture on the blackboard, and then post lecture summaries in PowerPoint on the class Web site. "Then, at the end of the semester I give bonus points to people who first find errors in the slides (there are always errors)," he says. "This turns out to provide a fantastic studying technique for the final exam: somehow, searching for my screw-ups is much more motivating than just trying to learn something for the final."
Respect is key when dealing with students, says Molnar. "If you expect professional behavior from students, and state that expectation, and hold them to it, then for the most part, you get a class of mature, responsible adults to teach," he says.