Setting students up for success
May 15, 2023
Claire (Yu) Yan
Associate Professor of Teaching
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
PhD, Mechanical Engineering, University of Strathclyde
Master of Science, Mechanical Engineering, Xi’an Jiaotong University
Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering, Xi’an Jiaotong University
Xi’an, Shaanxi province, China
“I believe that learning isn’t just about grades; it‘s about gaining a deep understanding of the fundamentals and developing capabilities. Students need to learn how to learn and have the confidence to learn given the resources available to them."
WHEN DR. CLAIRE YAN ATTENDED UNIVERSITY, professors expected students to attend class, dutifully take notes, do their homework and ask questions during office hours. But after more than 15 years of teaching an estimated 6,000 engineering students, Dr. Yan says the way she learned in university doesn’t work today.
“The learning climate and culture are different, and students have so many things competing for their time and attention,” explains Dr. Yan, an Associate Professor of Teaching in UBCO’s School of Engineering. “I believe teaching isn’t just about taking notes and understanding the topics at hand, but rather, how can professors interact with students to motivate them to learn more effectively?”
Passionate about lifting students to the next level of knowledge—and keenly aware of professors’ crucial roles in that—UBCO recognized Dr. Yan in 2023 with a Provost’s Award for Teaching Excellence and Innovation. Dr. Yan points to her youth when asked where her joy for teaching comes from; she was always eager to help her friends better understand what they were learning, and she eventually became a tutor during her university education. Now as a professor, Dr. Yan revels in helping students become more knowledgeable while also ensuring her classes positively affect each student’s personal, academic and career development.
“The most rewarding moment for me is seeing students excel with my help. What an enjoyable feeling! I also love communicating one-on-one with students and understanding their backgrounds and prior knowledge. I often encourage them to share their co-op or research experiences with the class, which not only enhances the value of their experiences but also engages the entire class in discussion. Those discussions are where deep learning may happen.”
To further improve the learning experience for students, Dr. Yan has developed an open textbook titled Introduction to Engineering Thermodynamics for her second-year thermodynamics class. “Recognizing the rising cost of textbooks, I started sharing my course notes with students in case they couldn’t afford them. I received many positive comments from students. With ALT funding and support from UBC Library, I further developed my notes into an open textbook.”
For Dr. Yan, open education resources provide a platform for inclusive and equitable learning opportunities for students, enabling accessibility, scalability and adaptability among educators and learners. This free resource helps more than 350 students annually at UBC Okanagan, and in 2022, Dr. Yan was nominated for a BC Campus Award for Excellence in Open Education in light of her work on the textbook.
An advocate for active, student-centred learning, Dr. Yan also developed a self-corrected assignment model that aims to foster self-directed learning and a growth mindset.
“I believe that learning isn’t just about grades; it‘s about gaining a deep understanding of the fundamentals and developing capabilities,” she explains. “Students need to learn how to learn and have the confidence to learn given the resources available to them. With self-directed learning and scaffolding, students are placed in the driver’s seat of their learning. They review and reflect on their work, identifying and correcting mistakes to improve their understanding of key concepts.”
With an eye on future engineers, Dr. Yan leads the Engineering 11 outreach program at Kelowna Secondary School. Grade 11 and 12 students are introduced to a variety of engineering disciplines, which can inspire students to pursue engineering in post-secondary studies while also preparing them for the transition to university.
“I love engineering and want to share my experience with as many young people as possible.”