Dr. Donald Webster joined the Georgia Tech faculty in September 1997 after completing a postdoctoral research appointment at Stanford University and holding a non-tenure track faculty position at the University of Minnesota. His research expertise lies in environmental fluid mechanics with an emphasis on the influence of fluid mechanics and turbulence on biological systems. His primary research objectives have been pursued in three basic ways: 1) studying the fluid mechanics related to biomechanics and sensory biology; 2) developing advanced experimental techniques and facilities necessary to conduct the research; 3) translating research results into bio-inspired design.
Webster’s educational activities include serving as the co-PI on an NSF-supported Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program that trains graduate students in the physics, chemistry, and ecology of chemical and hydrodynamic signaling in aquatic communities. He also has been a faculty mentor for an NSF-supported Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program addressing the interdisciplinary area of aquatic chemical ecology. In 2013, Webster implemented a “flipped classroom” pedagogy in his junior-level Fluid Mechanics and sophomore-level Dynamics courses. In these courses, students watch short online lectures prior to attending classes and participate in active problem solving during class sessions. The guiding principle behind this educational model is to use online technology to enhance the in-class (and overall) learning environment.
Higher education is changing: What do these changes mean for your field?
I have seen a couple of developments in recent years. First, the need for interdisciplinary efforts has become apparent. There is a tremendous opportunity to address relevant and important issues that cross traditional disciplinary boundaries. My area of fluid mechanics is a terrific example of a discipline that interacts and blends with many other disciplines, such as biology, medicine, robotics, aviation, and electronics, to name a few. Second, engineering education in general seems greatly affected by the development of technology for educational use. I have found that many web apps, for instance, are now available that facilitate enhanced learning experiences.
Is this change good, bad, or unnecessary?
A great challenge for interdisciplinary efforts is finding a common vocabulary across disparate disciplines. That takes time and effort to cultivate. Regarding educational technologies, the challenge is to sort through the available apps to find the combination that enhances the learning experience. Further, it can be difficult to remain current with the evolving technologies—as with many things the pace of change is accelerating.
What should C21U be doing?
I find efforts to inform faculty and staff about the evolving technologies and approaches to be very helpful and should be continued. Guidance on best practices is greatly appreciated.
What is one thing your students or colleagues may be surprised to learn about you?
I have twin 5-year-old daughters, who just started kindergarten this week. They are a blessing and a handful, and also a great inspiration for educating our next generation.