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Francis Quek receives 2012 XCaliber Award


Francis Quek Francis Quek

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 1, 2012 – Francis Quek, professor of computer science in the College of Engineering and Fellow of the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology at Virginia Tech, has received the university's 2012 XCaliber Award for excellence as an individual involved in teaching with technology.

Established in 1996 by Office of the Provost, the XCaliber Award (shorthand for exceptional, high-caliber work) is presented annually by the Virginia Tech Center for Innovation in Learning to recognize individual faculty members or teams of faculty and staff who integrate technology in teaching and learning. The award celebrates innovative, student-centered approaches to learning activities.

Quek received the award in recognition of his contributions to technology-assisted learning in Physical Computing for Computer Scientists, a class for graduate students with considerable knowledge and expertise in broad areas of computing.

Quek’s class encourages students to leverage as much of their prior knowledge as possible while they acquire new skills in rapid prototyping in electronics and physical-object construction. He creates an environment where students do not see the physical world as a barrier to computing, but rather see opportunities to innovate hardware and software solutions in relation to the physical world.

The solutions students pursue are a combination of their prior knowledge along with rapid prototyping skills acquired through learning activities in class.

In the course, students serve as apprentices to their own learning. They engage in a series of projects and provide instruction and information as subjects are encountered in the projects. After starting with small projects as background, students are ultimately responsible for two major projects that they propose and develop in teams of two or three people each. The professor provides hands-on help as needed, and students discuss projects in class so that all may benefit from sharing problems and solutions.

Example projects include a digital sound sequencer, light-emitting diodes, and a multi-sensor plush toy.

“Although I had little background in electrical engineering, my experience of the course was very positive,” said Sharon Chu, graduate student in computer science. “I particularly enjoyed the fact that the focus of the class was not on grades, but on actually learning to build computationally enhanced artifacts, which could help us in our research.”

Quek received his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 6,000 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.

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