This October, Zhaoshuo Jiang, assistant professor of civil engineering, will be recognized and awarded by California State University for his implementation of an innovative teaching practice and his devotion to assuring student success.
“These exceptional recipients demonstrate leadership in their respective fields and incorporate cutting-edge techniques into curriculum,” said CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White on the awardees of the Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award. “CSU faculty are leading the charge as our university continues its remarkable progress in improving student learning.”
Jiang’s advancements toward improving student accessibility to learning materials and academic success are founded on his zealous approach to education and engineering, and an unrelenting drive to benefit those around him.
“I wish I had 48 hours in a day, but when you’re doing something that you’re excited about, where you see the benefits to improve student learning, I find the time,” Jiang said.
Jiang and his team of engineering students are responsible for developing and implementing a user-friendly platform that can be accessed on any smart device, a solution to low success rates in engineering courses.
“All the credit should go to my students who worked on the platform,” Jiang said. “I feel like the work we are doing is actually being recognized so that’s very exciting. To know that someone else is thinking the same way I am, to help students success through the use of the latest technologies.”
Alec Maxwell played a vital role and worked rigorously with Jiang in the development of the platform.
“He’s been awesome to work with, super supportive, and everything you could ask for in a mentor,” Maxwell said. “I’ve always seen him as someone who’s always been willing to adapt and mold something if he thinks it would work out better for the students. For me, it’s how I would like all my teachers to be.”
Maxwell was also awarded first place in the CSU Undergraduate Student Research Competition in the computer science and engineering division for his work on the project. “Being exposed to all these different projects has really formed the decisions that I am making for the future,” he said.
The platform Jiang and his student team developed includes a remote mobile laboratory, interactive mobile learning apps, virtual office hours and easily accessible review videos. The best part about the platform? The effectiveness.
“It is proven that by using this mobile laboratory we can increase student confidence in learning after using this module,” Jiang said. “We put the remote lab in four different universities to see how it would work out. From the 150 students that participated, we got very good results.”
In fact, 89 percent of students who participated said the module improved understanding of critical concepts, 95 percent found that it was easy to use, and also found it enjoyable. With this module, students can have higher understanding of fundamental concepts, giving them greater assurance on being able to build on critical concepts.
“Imagine taking the bus, waiting at the bus stop, and trying to remember a fundamental concept that your professor taught you, but you can’t exactly remember what it is. Now you can take out your phone and in a [few] taps, now that knowledge is right in front of your eyes,” Jiang said.
Accessibility to conduct labs is very limited due to a series of constraints, such as lack of equipment, room capacity, testing schedules, accessibility to the facility and safety considerations.
Jiang and his team worked around these constraints by creating a remote mobile laboratory that employs mobile technology to allow students to access physical experiments through their mobile device. The remote laboratory provides students with a real sense of participation by adopting and integrating a telepresence robot. Students are able to control the robot remotely, allowing them to be in the room without physically being there. The lab also gives them access to a lab assistant who is physically there and can alter the experiment in real time.
“On a computer, the simulation of an experimentation, there are always approximations wherein you cannot make it exactly like the real world,” Jiang said. “That’s why in this remote lab we have, you do actually do the physical experiment, you control the physical experiment on your phone.”
Jiang drew inspiration for this new innovative program from the dichotomy of the accessibility to smart phones versus the accessibility to learning materials, while realizing that for some, education can be a luxury. This realization led to the creation of the mobile learning apps, which have added up to $13,673 in total student savings for the average enrollment over the course of one academic year.
“Nowadays, kids in this generation tend to feel uncomfortable if their cell phone or tablet is out of battery,” Jiang said. “We can not live without this technology, so my thinking was, ‘Why don’t we use that technology to educate ourselves?’ There’s a lot of opportunity there to utilize.”
Recipients of this award are to also receive $5,000, along with the allocation of $10,000 to their academic department. With this money, Jiang intends to invest in the progression and further development of his mobile learning module.
“The goal is hopefully more universities will adopt this platform so they can share their equipment and labs through the program,” Jiang said. “At SFSU we have two shake table earthquake simulators, and at other universities they probably have some other hardware, so if we can all use similar platforms we can be able to share equipment around the globe. That would be very cool.”
With a national implementation of this module, or program, students may find themselves conducting a lab in other states from their home or dorm at SF State.