Kevin Oldknow’s teaching philosophy emphasizes experiential learning

March 05, 2019

Kevin Oldknow is a passionate engineering educator, who strives to create inclusive and engaging learning opportunities for students. His dedication to teaching has been widely appreciated by colleagues and students, and has now earned him a 2018 SFU Excellence in Teaching Award.

A senior lecturer in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering, Oldknow has taught a variety of courses in areas including dynamic systems modeling and simulation, manufacturing systems, engineering economics, and technology entrepreneurship—courses full of technical details that are often challenging for students to grasp, but he manages to communicate them clearly with ease.

Oldknow left his full-time senior executive role at a technology firm in 2012 to pursue a teaching-focused career at SFU, a decision that demonstrates his passion for education. The background and extensive experience that he gained in industry before arriving at SFU have also allowed him to bring a wealth of real-world examples and perspectives into the classroom.

“I was on the hiring committee for his position and was very impressed by his trial teaching,” says one faculty nominator. “Very soon he proved himself to be one of the most welcomed professors in our school and his teaching evaluation overall [is] close to being perfect.”

In addition to the high ratings on his teaching evaluations, it is not uncommon to hear students and alumni enthusiastically share their experiences of having Oldknow as an instructor.

“Dr. Oldknow is by far the best professor I have experienced through the entirety of my studies between UNBC, UBC, and SFU,” says one student.

“He is one of the few professors that made me feel comfortable answering his questions in class,” notes another student. “He always encouraged students to think critically but also always responded positively and encouragingly to students’ attempt to answer his questions, making an excellent learning environment.”

Creating a comfortable learning environment is something Oldknow prioritizes in his teaching practice.

“To maximize learning it is important to minimize anxiety in the classroom, encouraging a comfortable and safe sharing of thoughts and an open, collaborative approach to problem solving,” says Oldknow.

Oldknow is also currently the associate dean of undergraduate studies for the Faculty of Applied Sciences (FAS), and served as the Faculty Teaching Fellow for FAS from 2015-2018, initiating cross-faculty activities to enhance teaching and learning. Prior to these roles, he helped develop the Technology Entrepreneurship@SFU (Tech e@SFU) and Mechatronic Product Realization programs, opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to put theory into practice and contribute to meaningful projects with real-life applications.

“I place a strong emphasis on ‘learning by doing.’ The intent is to strike a balance between the delivery of content and experiential learning in the classroom,” he says.

Most recently, Oldknow was appointed as the inaugural director of SFU’s new Sustainable Energy Engineering program, and has been leading the development of the undergraduate and graduate programs that will be launching this fall.

“I am deeply and profoundly honoured to have been selected for this award,” says Oldknow. “I have enjoyed serving as an instructor over the last six years and look forward to providing new experiential learning opportunities for our students in the coming years."