Third time's a charm
I have been teaching the same class for three years now, and I think I have finally gotten it where it needs to be. The first year was my first year as a faculty member, and I was pretty naive. I am embarrassed to say that I actually had dreams of students calling me "best professor they ever had" by the end of the course. I was lucky to get out with "she's really enthusiastic, but her exams suck."
The second year the class was coordinated with another section taught be another instructor who was new to our department. I had never tried to coordinate a class between sections and it really didn't work well. The worst part was that I didn't know how to coordinate the TAs, which were shared. My colleague was telling them to do some stuff, and I was telling them to do stuff and neither of us knew what the other was doing and the TAs sort of picked and chose what to execute. This led to a lot of sloppy assignments with answers that didn't make sense or exam questions that were really unclear.
This year I am trying a new strategy. I am still coordinating with my colleague, but to a much lower degree (just exams and HW assignments). I also got an article about how to teach the class from the author of our text book, a widely known authority on teaching subdivision engineering. I adopted virtually all of his suggestions, some of which I was already doing, and the class is going really, really well. Students are engaged and seem happy. The key points, which seem obvious in hindsight, are to move slowly and to include the class in the lecture through "active learning" exercises. This means that I will introduce a topic with a few short powerpoint slides. Then I will do a derivation of the key equations on the board. Next, I will work an example that is outlined in their notes, but that they have to fill in with specifics. Finally, they will work a worksheet together in groups on the topic, while I roam the room answering questions. This works really, really well. I also showed a couple of YouTube videos (< 3 min) related to subdivision engineering and that went over pretty well. I am so happy with this result, I think I will apply the method to all my classes.