Liebenberg named winner of the Rose Award for Teaching Excellence

3/3/2021

Leon LiebenbergTeaching Associate Professor Leon Liebenberg has won the 2021 Rose Award for Teaching Excellence from The Grainger College of Engineering.

This competitive award commends undergraduate teaching faculty for their innovative teaching methods and instructional programs, especially those that motivate freshmen and sophomores to learn and appreciate engineering. It is given in the name of Scott Rose, who received his degree in computer engineering in 1987 from Illinois.

Liebenberg’s teaching and associated research is focused on the belief that a great learning experience should elicit an enthusiasm for learning. If students become passionate and interested in a topic, they will pursue learning that leaves the classroom; they will reengage with an object/activity/idea, or content, repeatedly; and such students will then be more motivated, self-directed, and prone to establish deep conceptual understanding than those lacking interest in the subject.  His teaching therefore focuses on the use of self-directed learning, mainly by employing scaffolded mini-projects. These mini-projects shift the focus away from exam performance and toward continuous low-stakes assessment while simultaneously developing the skills and acquiring the knowledge necessary to understand, utilize, create, and communicate ideas. 

Apart from performing research, analyses, and designs, students also have to reflect on their learning. These mini-projects also require students to document their findings in ePortfolios. These activities have been found to better engage students, to spark their critical and creative thinking skills to solve real-world problems, and to motivate them to continue their learning even after completing their course. These self-directed activities directly influence what students do to learn, and thus address cognitive and emotional learning.

He also employs “playful” pedagogies of engagement, which he has found to make learning more meaningful and contextual (and fun), such as student-produced online graphic novels, augmented reality apps, 360-degree virtual tours of an industrial plant or process, or interactive infographics.

Liebenberg, who joined MechSE in spring 2017, believes that students only think deeply about things they care about. His work is therefore aimed at creating learning environments and activities in which students are intrinsically motivated while also experiencing feelings of delight, surprise, understanding, empathy, and trust.