Every good Boilermaker should be in training— model trains, that is, according to Purdue professor “Dr. Dave” Meyer.
“They embody key aspects of engineering—the physics of motion; mechanical engineering concepts of linkages, drive systems, and gear ratios/torque; basic electrical engineering concepts of voltage, current, power, resistance, transformers, diodes, motors, and lights; digital signal processing techniques for generating sound effects; computer engineering application of digital command control and embedded microcontrollers; civil engineering principles involved in the design of scale structures and bridges; and construction engineering principles involved in building a layout. If parents want their kids to aspire to be future engineers, one of the best gifts they can give them is a toy train set, along with 4x8 sheet of plywood,” he says.
The Electrical and Computer Engineering professor—who still has the first toy train set he received over 50 years ago and has been a Boilermaker since coming to campus as a freshman in 1969—uses toy trains along with other everyday electronic devices as examples of engineering practice.
“I use anything and everything I can get my hands on to make lectures and labs as interesting and useful as possible,” says Meyer, who earned his bachelor’s, two master’s, and doctorate at Purdue, then joined the faculty 26 years ago.
“Students like practical, hands-on learning. They want to see things work,” he says. “Building a project from the ground up—that’s when students start to blossom and understand what we’re teaching and why the material is important.”
Meyer’s style is to combine humor and popular icons, such as Sponge Bob and Simon Cowell (who may actually be related), to maintain students’ interest during lectures, says Brian Moerdyk, who was a graduate teaching assistant under Meyer. “I learned from him that lecture material should never be considered constant. While changes are necessary to keep up with evolving technology, it is also necessary to evolve lectures to keep up with students’ changing needs.”
It’s effective. Meyer has landed 20 teaching awards, some student-selected. They include the Dean A.A. Potter Award, Purdue Book of Great Teachers, Eta Kappa Nu C. Holmes MacDonald Outstanding Teaching Award, ASEE Fred Merryfield Design Award for Excellence in Teaching Engineering Design, IEEE Undergraduate Teaching Award, and IEEE Computer Society Undergraduate Teaching Award.
The secret to his success is constant pursuit of new and better ways to teach, accompanied by a lack of fear to “try anything once.” One educational research project currently underway involves offering two core computer engineering courses in parallel formats: traditional lecture and inverted, where the lecture content is delivered on-line and the face-to-face class meetings are used for directed problem solving sessions. “In addition to optimizing the teaching environment for different styles of learners, the opportunity to choose between two ‘opposite’ course formats forces students to think about how they best learn,” he says.
Other educational research projects currently underway include use of peer-rated on-line discussion threads and student response units (“clickers”). Another recently funded project involves use of Tablet PCs to improve laboratory notebooks in his Digital Systems Senior Design course. Meyer has also worked extensively on best practices for outcome assessment and capstone design. Results of this work, as well as links to all the instructional materials Meyer has developed, can be found on his home page (http://cobweb.ecn.purdue.edu/~meyer).
Meyer grew up in
This fall, he’ll teach courses at the freshman through senior level, including a new service-learning based course on sound reinforcement system design (his favorite subject). In his spare time, he’ll work on his hobby—creating a computer-controlled model train layout (complete with digital sound effects) in his basement.
Originally written by Kathy Mayer for ECE Impact, August 2007