Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2017

Faculty Award winner

Sasan Fathpour

 College of Optics and Photonics


I can profess my teaching philosophy in four core tenets:

1) All students can succeed, and a failed student implies a failed instructor

2) One cannot claim to know a subject, unless s/he can successfully teach it

3) Teachers are ironically students themselves too, as implied in the above quote

4) The best combination of available educational tools ought to be used

There are many creative initiatives to fulfill the first three tenets. A teacher not only has to more deeply learn the course subject after teaching it, but also has the obligation of self-training her/his teaching skills. A modern educational system must be flexible in the sense that its open-minded instructors should believe that different students with wide range of talents may need to be approached differently. For example, some students may require additional homework problems or extra office hours, while others may need optional reading and tutorial reports. Some may perform better in team work, while some may show more progress in challenging independent projects.

A professor needs to keep her/his teaching motivations high and should not use the same pre-cooked material year after year, in my opinion. I prefer to use a different required textbook if repeat instructing a course in order to learn a new perspective myself and be in the same boat as the students. For example, this is exactly what I have been doing in the three times I have been instructing the course I developed on Integrated Photonic Devices (OSE 6938S). A look at the attached syllabi of the course shows how the course topics and textbooks have been modified each time.

I also strongly believe in the fourth tenant mentioned above. I use a specific example to elaborate this. Some professors predominately use slide presentations as their means of communicating their talking points to students. There are professors and students, however, who believe using viewgraph slides can potentially make the class too passive and monotonous. Also, it is argued that the teaching material does not stick in students’ minds as the professor may be tempted to fly over the slides and do not bother to get into the details. Thus, some professors follow the traditional way of writing on the board to teach and avoid slides all together. I personally believe in and pursue a hybrid approach and use slides or the board depending on the situation. For example, there are lectures like geometrical optics that require very nice drawings to communicate the ideas. In this case, nice electronic images, organized nicely in viewgraphs, are very useful and better than hastily drawing rough sketches on the board. However, I strongly believe that developing mathematical formulas with in-depth proofs and derivations using slides is not a good idea. I therefore try to treat such topics on the board, so that students can absorb the material more slowly, while I am writing the equations on the board.