Autar Kaw, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of South Florida, is one of four national winners of the 2012 U.S. Professors of the Year awards, the highest national award for undergraduate teaching.
Kaw was named the Outstanding Doctoral and Research Universities Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. He was honored Thursday at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Kaw started working on developing computer programs for teaching engineering classes in numerical methods in the late 1980s. He would often get questions from students he couldn't answer right away because they required long calculations that he'd write computer programs to solve.
Professors at other universities must have been getting the same questions, he said, so he thought of sending them the programs on discs, leading to the idea of open courseware, or course material that's available online for free.
He began applying for National Science Foundation funding in 1990, and first received funding in 2001.
"By that time technology had changed quite a bit," he said. "It was more accessible to people."
The National Science Foundation has continued funding the project every year since, and Kaw has partnered with other universities, including Arizona State, Mississippi Valley State and Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Kaw started a YouTube page in 2009 with videos explaining equations. He answers questions for undergraduates taking numerical methods on his blog, the Numerical Methods Guy, and posts on Twitter as @numericalguy.
The YouTube videos are especially interactive, he said. Students leave comments on the videos to ask questions, point out parts that need more explanation, and answer each other's questions. "The conversation has been going on for three years now," he said.
Kaw started teaching at USF in 1987, after earning a Ph.D. in engineering mechanics from Clemson University.
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3321.