It appears that I'll be teaching a graduate-level signal processing class to the 2nd-year PhDs in the audiology department at Purdue this spring term. My mission for this class is to help the audiology students become the sort of audiologists I'd want to have myself as a deaf geek. At the end of this post are three ideas that I'd like folks to give the "crazy test" to (as in, feedback: is this cool or is this crazy?)
I am excited! I mean, I get to spend a semester helping audiologists get comfortable with tech geekery? YES. I am also scared shitless, because... wait, am I qualified to do this? Signals and Systems boggled my mind when I first encountered it as an electrical and computer engineering undergrad, and I haven't taken any grad-level classes on it myself yet (I've just got a bachelor's) and I know... minuscule amounts about audiology, most of it as a patient.
It comforts me to know that my engineering education PhD classmate Farrah is co-teaching. She made a living teaching DSP college classes for nearly a decade in Pakistan, and now makes a living researching how to do it better. We also only have 8 students -- the same ones in my Hearing Aids class this term -- and they're cool and willing to experiment. I also know I do tremendously well with baptisms by fire; the class I'm most legendary for being an awesome TA at was one I nearly flunked when I took it (I actually begged to teach because I wanted another chance to go back and learn the material, and... oh, did I ever.)
It is further complicated by the fact that the class will be held in Indiana next term, and I... will be in Ohio. I'll be in Columbus studying at Ohio State University (OSU) as a travelling scholar, taking Patti Lather's classes on cultural theory and poststructural/feminist research methods in education before she retires at the end of this school year. (I have also, to my great joy, gotten permission to take the intro hip hop dance class as well as whatever level of "individualized German" I place into -- apparently I am not the first hearing-impaired student they've had... okay, I'm the second, but at least someone's done it before, and the ability to go at my own pace is a huge blessing because I read fast but listen slow.)
Farrah and I had hoped I might be able to drive back for classes every other week, but the course scheduling for the semester makes that... insane. It would involve attending class, driving 5 hours, teaching class, driving 5 hours, sleeping for a few hours, and then attending another class. I'm willing to do that once or twice, but... every other week? No. I have this strict no-dying policy about my work life...
So I have been brainstorming as to how we can teach the class, and have come up with 3 ideas that Farrah hasn't vetoed as too crazy yet. I would love feedback and thoughts.
Have the class write the course textbook -- for an audience of geeky hearing aid users and their companions. Yes, I'm a fan of collaborative project-based learning that results in Real Useful Things, how did you guess? When I say "textbook," I mean "reference material" -- this probably will resemble a collection of articles and videos and code samples more than a traditional thing-on-dead-trees-with-a-spine. (And of course it'll all be open-licensed. Here's the idea: at some point, every audiologist is going to have patients who are geeks, or whose parents or partners or friends or family are geeks -- they're going to encounter someone who is going to look at the room full of equipment and the tiny, extremely expensive embedded device going inside someone's skull or ear canal, and ask "so, how does that work? Like... really work?" The pretty ad copy from hearing aid manufacturers featuring happy grandparents and little babies isn't going to cut it -- so what are you going to give them? Right. There's nothing for that yet. So my idea is that we're going to make it. Whatever we make ought to be readable and understandable by a bright high school kid; no engineering PhD required -- but it's going to explain things, ok? No hand-waving, no magical black boxes. This would be our Giant Project for the semester, the entire class pulling and learning to get it together. This means we need project work time, which is why my second idea is to...
Flip the classroom, Oxford style. I think it's Oxford that has students meet 1:1 with tutors instead of placing them in giant lecture halls. As I told Farrah tonight, the notion of lecturing to 8 students seems ludicrous to me -- especially if they all come from such different math/programming/technology/science backgrounds. Give them material to learn each week and a choice of resources to learn it from plus a little self-diagnostic exercise thing to check their understanding, then have them meet for 30 or 45 minutes with an instructor to assess that understanding, ask questions, and whatever else that individual needs. (Bonus: grading happens during those meetings and becomes formative feedback -- way more fun and easy than marking exams.) That's 2-3 hours per instructor per week (depending on whether we do 30 or 45 minute sessions) and way better contact time for the students.
This means that "class time" as scheduled can be used for project work time -- basically, studio. We know everyone will be free then. We can get together and work on stuff! But we don't all need to be in the same place. In fact, I won't be in the same place. I'm probably going to do Google Hangouts for my 1:1s (bonus: multiple people can listen in). I'll do the same for team meetings. Heck, they can do the same for team meetings. Heck, they can do the same if they want to talk with other people who aren't in Indiana (hearingaidhacks community, I'm looking at you). I mean, we're talking 8 future audiologists here -- they're going to know so much more about how to use this flexibility for awesome than we will.
Use Python. Yes, MATLAB is what researchers in this field will use. Lord knows I've had to do my signal processing homework in MATLAB -- but I was studying electrical engineering, not preparing for future clinical practice. And I had programmed before. And was very, very comfortable with matrix operations. And... I mean, if conceptual understanding is the goal here, use a language that's easy to understand, has novice-friendly libraries (I am in thrall of the myriad options Python provides for signal processing libraries -- now I just need to work through them all and figure out which ones are best for learning!), and produces beautiful graphical and auditory output. I mean, if you wanted to become a brilliant research MATLAB programmer, you're probably not getting your PhD in audiology. That having been said, I know the department wants the students to learn MATLAB, so maybe there's some compromise here to be had; a mix of MATLAB and Python, having students translate MATLAB code to Python or vice versa as an exercise, something of the sort. (And if anyone really wants to learn MATLAB, we'll teach them. Farrah and I can do that. If someone needs this for their future research project, we can help, but I'd rather have the individuals who need it ask for it than to force-feed it to everyone.)
Time commitment math? Here's what I figure.
For the students: 3 hours in project studio plus 1-2 hours working on the project outside studio. Reading time plus 30-45 minutes for individual meetings -- let's call that another 3 hours. Total: 7-8 hours per week, which is well under the 9 hours you're "supposed" to spend on a 3-credit class (we will inevitably forget something like administrivia, so the buffer time is good). And a lot of the time is flexible, which I think audiology students with busy clinic hour requirements might appreciate.
For the instructors: 3 hours in project studio plus 2-3 hours of individual meetings, and between 2-5 hours a week of course prep depending on what's going on. I'm trying to overestimate here, so that places us at 7-11 hours a week -- totally survivable. (I suspect it will be closer to the lower end of this time estimate if we prepare intelligently and manage things well, but... Murphy's Law.)
That's what I'm thinking. O metabrain of the internets, please hammer on these ideas, propose new ones, make them better, do the many-eyeballs magic that you do.