Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week
The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Dhruv Batra, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, for developing new, innovative undergraduate and graduate curriculum at Virginia Tech, and employing motivating and goal-driven instructional practices.
Engineering and science students at Virginia Tech tend to be segregated in their majors. Professor Batra is bringing the knowledge of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and mining Big Data to groups that would not traditionally be exposed to it (e.g. Biology and Mechanical Engineering majors), and exposing them to interdisciplinary research. He designed and taught a new class in Spring 2013: ECE 4984/5984 Introduction to Machine Learning & Perception. The class was open to juniors, seniors, and first-year graduate students, and was attended by students from diverse backgrounds and departments, including Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Industrial & Systems Engineering. In addition to implementing algorithms as part of regular homework assignments, Prof. Batra’s students also worked on final projects that were presented to the entire department at the class poster and demo session. This session was the first of its kind in the department and was featured in the ECE news (http://www.ece.vt.edu/news/articles/machine-learning-course.html). One student’s class project was accepted for publication at the International Conference on Computational Cell Biology 2013, and another student’s was accepted for publication at the Military Communications Conference (MILCOM) 2013. Prof. Batra is teaching the same class in Fall 2013 (from now on the class will be offered only in Fall).
Inspired by the "Hackathons" and "Hack Days" organized in companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple, Prof. Batra' has redesigned his Fall 2013 class around "Kaggle Competitions." Kaggle is a company that hosts machine learning and data analytic competitions. Kaggle provides a platform where data generators (typically large companies and research labs) post their data, and then statisticians, data scientists, and machine learning experts from all over the world compete to produce the best models. Kaggle has partnered with organizations such as NASA, Wikipedia, Deloitte, and Allstate for its competitions, and has been featured in the New York Times and numerous other news outlets. Prof. Batra is currently implementing "Kaggle-in-Class," which involves hosting homework competitions with live leader boards so that students can see in real-time how their implementations are performing relative to other students/teams in the class. He further offers extra credit for outperforming the instructor's/TAs' implementations, which appears to motivate the students. This setup gives students an early exposure to real-world problems and the path to their solutions.
Prof. Batra focuses on honing and refining his teaching practices. As part of his CAREER proposal, Prof. Batra is working with an external evaluator, Dr. Catherine Amelink, a Research Analyst and Assessment Specialist in the College of Engineering at VT, in order to assess these educational activities and determine whether his and the department’s goals are being reached.
Prof. Batra’s students have expressed their appreciation of his teaching practices. Excerpts of student comments from his Spring 2013 ECE 5984 SPOT evaluations follow: "Dr. Batra has been immensely helpful and he is a wonderful instructor. This course is the first of its kind at VT and very beneficial to the Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence/Machine Vision folks!" "He gives very clear explanations for the topics. He is able to make hard and complex things easy to understand. A great instructor." Student comments from (anonymous) mid-semester survey: “You are actually in my top five teachers of all time, especially within VT. The reasons for this are straightforward: (1) You are prepared for class, and post notes prior to each lecture. (2) You sum up a lecture and post slides detailing ‘what [we] need to know.’ This sometimes can also be considered a subtle quality, but is extremely important. With so much information being communicated in engineering courses, it is often difficult to take it all in, and having a checklist of topics and skills make it an order of magnitude easier to verify our knowledge." As is clear in these comments, Prof. Batra's dedication to teaching has had a positive impact of his students.