Tallman honored as "Early Career Faculty" by College
Before stepping onto to Purdue University’s campus in August 2015, Tyler Tallman never had taught a class.
His research was enough to secure an assistant professor gig in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, but Tallman knew he’d have much broader responsibilities. So before leaving the University of Michigan, where he obtained his master’s and Ph.D., Tallman popped into a couple offices to ask for advice.
His grad school advisor in mechanical engineering, Professor Kon-Well Wang, told him when you “teach less, they learn more.”
Jerry Lynch, a highly respected faculty member in civil engineering and a member of Tallman’s Ph.D. thesis committee, shared his process of making comprehensive notes.
Those responses, among others, helped form the basis for Tallman’s teaching approach. And led to prompt success in AAE.
In only his second year with the School, he was selected by undergraduate students as the Elmer F. Bruhn Award winner, presented annually to an outstanding teacher.
Five years later, Tallman is being honored again for his undergraduate teaching, on an even higher level.
The College of Engineering chose Tallman as the recipient of its Early Career Teaching award, given to an assistant professor who demonstrates superior ability in communicating the chosen material to the students and stimulates their desire to master the material. The award also targeted professors who recognize their teaching responsibility to students does not stop at the classroom door are ready to aid and motivate students in a counseling and advisory capacity, either formally or informally.
Tallman met every requirement and was chosen “for the use of innovative, evidence-based instructional methods in his classes, and for spearheading significant improvements to the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ undergraduate curriculum,” according to the College.
Tallman and eight other faculty were recognized during a virtual College of Engineering Faculty Excellence Awards on April 23.
“I’m very honored to have received it,” said Tallman, who teaches three courses, including an all-undergraduate Aeromechanics II (AAE 204). “I feel like I try to put in a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to be a good teacher. The ultimate payout is having the students learn the material and do well.”
Tallman constantly strives to improve and innovate his teaching. To that end, he has compiled and disseminated expansive lecture notes, revamped the curricula in all of his courses and integrated in-class experiments to demonstrate key concepts.
Tallman uses a research-backed pedagogy to develop comprehensive notes for his classes that are posted for students online. The notes are a distillation of several textbooks, his own notes from when he was a student and online resources. They contain extra examples personally developed by Tallman, greatly expanded discussions on theory, real-world applications and detailed solution strategies. That approach gives students two opportunities to learn from the notes — once in lecture and again when they review the more detailed notes online.
Students have responded with positive feedback. One student even offered on an evaluation that Tallman’s notes are so “amazing,” they “should be framed.”
Tallman appreciates that kind of response, especially because it goes toward validating his intent to create an environment in which students can comprehend complex topics. Tallman is able to break material down in to more easily consumable and understandable ways, allowing students to master the material.
“Jerry told me making comprehensive notes was good not only for the students but also for his benefit. It helps him to prepare more, to be more adept with the material. The 204 stuff is not stuff I do on a daily basis — it’s pretty far removed from the research activity. So hearing about how effective that’s been for him to put the time and effort into making those right, to making them available to the students, has paid dividends, which I feel like it has so far for me too.”
In his only all-undergraduate course, AAE 204 Aeromechanics II, Tallman identified a common weakness among the students. He worked with colleagues who taught the prerequisite course to identify the source, and they realized the 203 and 204 had different methods of teaching statics. The nomenclature and conventions didn’t line up, Tallman said. So Tallman led an effort to standardize instructional methods across classes. He received validation that unified approach was successful in subsequent senior exit exams that showed an improved performance in statics-related questions.
Both of Tallman’s graduate-level courses — AAE 552, Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE) of Structures and Materials and AAE 553, Elasticity in Aerospace Engineering — include undergraduate students and also were adjusted.
In 552, Tallman changed the focus of the class from a purely practical application to a mix of underlying physics and application, and he added a new section on structural health monitoring and new NDE methods.
In the elasticity course, he cut some highly specialized material in favor of focusing on more essential fundamentals.
“The pearl I got from my Ph.D. advisor, Kon-Well Wang, was ‘teach less and they learn more’ in the sense it’s better to very diligently cover fewer topics and to have them really understand it than to go and try to cover absolutely everything but do it too fast or a poor job of it,” Tallman said. “So in 553, I ended up cutting a few things that are worth knowing, but my rationale there was I’d rather have them understand the fundamentals extremely well and then they’ll have the tools to teach themselves some of the things we’re cutting out later.”
Tallman utilizes in-class experiments to illustrate key concepts. That allows students to gain a visual understanding of the underlying concepts. In AAE 204, he uses simple experiments to illustrate concepts such as shear transmission, buckling shapes, brittle failure and area moment of inertia. In AAE 552, he developed demonstrations for various nondestructive inspection methods.
“The 204 classes are fun and exciting in the sense that this is the first exposure for a lot of students in a particular field, but the 500-level classes are also fun and exciting in a different way because I feel like I can push on them much harder, to give them more,” Tallman said. “Not to say that easy problems aren’t interesting, but the more interesting problems tend to be more difficult. It’s knowing your audience, being aware of who is in each one and what their goals and motivations are.”
He also is an active undergraduate research mentor via 400-level independent studies and on sponsored projects. Undergraduate students learn experimental skills, are assigned weekly readings from scientific journals and prepare bi-weekly reports, all in an effort to give undergraduate researchers a strong combination of lab and communication skills.