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Professor implements innovative teaching techniques

When it comes to teaching, David Needham avoids convention.

The mechanical engineering professor has been implementing his own original teaching method to his Focus Program seminar “Mapping Engineering into Biology.”

“The professor takes on a different role and becomes a facilitator of learning,” Needham said. “He is the guide by the side.”

Needham’s method—EDU-K pedagogy—is based on reverse engineering and rearranges the learning process. Students do homework in class and listen to class lectures at home. EDU-K pedagogy is an acronym that incorporates Experimenting, Exploring, Discovery and Uncovery of fundamental principles, leading to new Knowledge for the student, Needham said. Students ask questions and research class topics independently.

The students use reverse engineering to explore the designs of various human systems and understand the development of diseases.

“Why teach them what exists when with guidance they can experiment and discover it for themselves?” Needham said.

Freshman Sam Xi who is enrolled in Needham’s seminar wrote in an e-mail that, although the open-endedness of Needham’s teaching methods was sometimes frustrating due to the wealth of information available, the unique methods helped him understand the main concepts he was learning.

Freshman Siddharth Kandan, another student of Needham’s, wrote in an e-mail that he believes he will remember his findings from class research better than if he studied the information for a test.

“He really wants us to find our own answers, rather than ask for them from him,” Xi said. “The class becomes more interesting when not everyone is learning the same concepts.”

Needham has met with Dr. Edward Buckley, vice dean for medical education at the School of Medicine and Colleen Grochowski, associate dean for curricular affairs at the medical school, to discuss incorporating his method into the school’s first-year curriculum. Several weeks ago, Jennifer Carbrey, assistant professor of cell biology at the medical school, observed one of Needham’s classes.

“What stood out to me while observing Needham’s class was the freedom the students had to explore the aspects of the brain that interested them the most,” Carbrey wrote in an e-mail. “Needham did an excellent job of facilitating their learning and allowing them to make their own discoveries.”

Carbery added that she suspects Needham’s students are more likely to retain information longer and have a deeper understanding of the material compared to students taught through other teaching methods. Other professors, however, are still examining the use of Needham’s method in the medical school, as first-year curriculum is quite compact, she said.

Buckley wrote in an email that he hopes Needham’s teaching techniques will eventually become part of the medical school’s curriculum.

“I have encouraged and facilitated interactions between David and the medical school faculty,” he said. “Duke is very lucky to have his talents.”


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