In December 1973 I wrote an essay for my application to receive a National Science Foundation Fellowship for graduate studies (which I was granted). In that essay, I wrote the following paragraph:
"As a graduate student at Berkeley, I am not only learning to think scientifically but I am gaining an appreciation of different teaching styles and techniques. Naturally, this is very important to me because my goal is to become a university professor. In my transition from a graduate student into a professor, I must not only develop my analytical abilities but I must learn how to define undiscovered, existing problems. The latter is an essential prerequisite for an ability to contribute significantly in my future research".
Although during the last forty years I have refined my perspective on these issues, this statement still remains essentially true for me.
Professors have to convey to their students that they should expect great people to be correct but they should not accept anything as true until they have proved it for themselves. This attitude towards research will help them break through the current boundaries of knowledge to create significant new knowledge.
The late Professor PM Naghdi at the University of California, Berkeley, one of two giants who have most shaped my academic character, called me aside one day to emphasize the following statement: The most important thing is to keep an open mind! If we truly keep an open mind to new ideas, then if a correction to our life's work is proposed we will be able to critically analyze and prove the validity of the correction. Moreover, and most importantly, we will believe as strongly in the new corrected formulation as we used to believe in our original formulation. This is very difficult in practice, but I believe that it is important to convey this attitude to our students.
Professor SR Bodner at the Technion is the other giant. He taught me the importance of conveying knowledge in an understandable format and I try to convey this important message to my graduate students.
About 20-25 years ago, I attended a two-day teaching workshop given by an expert in engineering education. This workshop emphasized that students learn concepts in different ways and that we need to present material to students in a variety of methods so that the different types of learners will have some of the material presented with the approach that is most natural to them. The workshop also emphasized the importance of distributing short questions for active group work during the lecture, to help wake up the students when they begin to lose concentration. I have incorporated both recommendations into my teaching.
I am convinced that the only way to really master technical material is to do challenging homework problems. I tell the students that it is essential for them to attempt to do the problems by themselves in order to make sure they know how to properly translate a physical problem into a mathematical framework which can be solved. Since many of our students do military reserve duty at inconvenient times during the semester, they typically get help from their friends to catch up on the material. This "helpful culture", unfortunately, has become too general and has led to many students copying homework problems when they are under more normal pressures of school.
I decided to combat this problem directly. I proposed an "honor code", a cover sheet which needs to be signed and handed in by each student for each assignment and which clearly explains the importance of "attempting" to do homework on your own. It also explains that students will get full credit for any serious attempt to solve the problems. In addition, I told the students that their homework will be used by the teaching assistants to identify generic problems that students are having which should be discussed in class. Moreover, I required each student to testify that the homework they submitted was done solely by themselves. The students honored this agreement and many of them commented that this approach encouraged them to really solve the problems on their own.
W3C" in Hebrew.