I am not a sage on the stage or a guide on the side.
In changing the project every year, I become
a co-learner and co-author with my students. That I know the core material doesn't mean that I can answer all of their questions. Students can tell the difference between a professor who is not answering questions "for your own good" and one who genuinely doesn't know the answer but is curious to find out more with them.
Over the years, I read plenty of research-based best practices and pedagogical articles. This was my own scrapyard - picking up pedagogical concepts that might be helpful, while ignoring others. Just like my students, I form my own opinions and teaching voice. I found that what I'm doing isn't all that strange in the humanities and social sciences. They have experimented with democratic classrooms where students take ownership over almost all aspects of the class from topics, timing, and evaluation metrics. I have not gone quite this far, but I found that I have been unleashed as a teacher.
Now on the first day of class, I meet my students at the entrance to the scrapyard. I promise that they can pick up their own parts and determine for themselves what might be interesting. I do my best
to help them make some sense of what they find. I may claim something is important and I expect that they will ask why. I should have a good answer.
The class will have a theme, but that is less important than learning how to walk into a scrapyard as a curious observer. I expect students to actively look for connections within engineering and across other disciplines. And that they can be empowered with an entrepreneurial mindset to use their superpowers as engineers to seize opportunities, maximize impact, and create value for others.
We should all leave the scrapyard with stories that are uniquely our own.