Creating Meaningful Activities in STEM Courses

Dr. Peter Teertstra is a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at the University of Waterloo, and used Kritik in his Thermodynamics and Mechanical Design courses. The introduction of Kritik into a course delivered online for the first time was challenging but necessary to ensure his students got the most value out of their courses. We interviewed Professor Teertstra about Kritik’s impact in his courses.


What piqued your interest in Kritik (more specifically, peer evaluation)?

When I heard that Kritik was Dr. Mohsen Shahini’s newest product in the ed-tech space, I was immediately intrigued. Mohsen’s involvement and process withTopHat solidified his reputation within the industry, and the team that Mohsen assembled are all focused on a goal higher than making money – improving classroom education. COVID-19 gave me an opportunity to check out new technology, and I was excited to test peer evaluation in my courses.


How has Kritik made a positive impact in your engineering courses this summer?


In Engineering (STEM) courses, I am quite limited as an instructor. I have few tools available to me; I give a lecture, but students interpret that as a wall of words coming towards them. I give them a textbook and problem-sets, but it does not really encourage them unless they are driven.I remember my time as an undergraduate student, and there were concepts that I really struggled with in Thermodynamics. By creating thoughtful activities in Kritik, students were able to see the different perspectives of their peers on course work. Kritik created a fun environment where students discoveredThermodynamics in the world around them, and understood the concepts at a deeper, more personalized learning experience.


What types of activities did you create for your Engineering students?


I wanted to create activities that encouraged collaboration and were different from the problem sets they were used to. For some of the trickier concepts like Boundary Work, I created activities within Kritik that encouraged them to be creative in their solutions. I usually have a BoundaryWork problem on the exam that has proved difficult for students in years prior.However, many of the students received 20/20 on the Boundary Work problem that has traditionally been difficult, and I believe that was due to their interaction with the concept through Kritik.


In my design course, one of the key concepts my students often struggle with is being able to concisely and effectively communicate the details of a real world design problem.  I remembered co-op students from Waterloo engineering working for a certain company being tasked with presenting the entire work term in a one slide presentation to conclude their work experience, and often spend weeks editing it to ensure it is succinct and summarizes their experience. I used this same activity in the design class and it yielded interesting results.


Many instructors are overwhelmed with the reality of online learning. Why did you decide to use Kritik, and what would you tell your colleagues about it?


Kritik is broad in scope, and not restrictive like a quiz ora clicker. I was inspired to create meaningful activities that would’ve helped my understanding of Thermodynamics when I was an undergrad. It was very fun for me to create activities and the amount of flexibility the platform has allowed my imagination to flow. I really appreciated the hands-off nature of the platform, all I had to do was create a rubric for each activity I wanted to run and I watched it all unfold. Kritik requires low time commitment to get setup, and the Customer Service team was excellent in handling any student issues with the platform. The cost was very reasonable compared to other e-learning tools, and I would have used Kritik again in my Thermodynamics course even if I was teaching face-to-face.  



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Dr. Peter Teertstra
Dr. Peter Teertstra
University of Waterloo
Professor, Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering