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An interview with..., Bristol Teaching Awards, News, Teaching and Learning Gallery, Teaching Stories

An interview with… Francesco Fornetti

Francesco Fornetti, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, has been shortlisted for the Inspiring and Innovative Teaching Award for the Faculty of Engineering, with multiple nominations referring to him going ‘above and beyond’ in his teaching. He shares some of the work he has done, as well as his teaching ‘best’ moments, below.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and teaching experience?

I have been a member of the academic team at the University of Bristol for 6 years and very active in developing novel teaching methods for electronic engineering for the past 10 years.

I see teaching as the process of stimulating curiosity and creating enthusiasm about a subject in a way that encourages, inspires and enables students to explore independently beyond the confines of a prescribed syllabus.

What are your best teaching moments?

​​In 2010, I pioneered a novel approach to teaching Analogue Electronics and Radio Frequency Engineering, which employs a powerful simulation tool (AWR DE), traditionally employed for circuit design, to create a virtual teaching laboratory. This enables students to learn in a virtual laboratory environment where they can safely carry out inquiry-based and experiential learning. To support this, I created many bespoke video tutorials which may be freely accessed on my YouTube channel and website.

This article provides a comprehensive overview of this work and the ethos that underpins it.

In 2015, I created home lab kits, based on USB- and battery-powered instrumentation, that students could use anytime and anywhere. These greatly promote independent learning, reduce the pressure that students feel during scheduled lab sessions and help teaching staff cater for the very broad range of abilities of first-year undergraduates. They also enable students to experiment with their own ideas and projects.

What informs your pedagogical approach?

My pedagogical work is in part informed by my industrial experience with major corporations (Motorola, Rolls-Royce, MBDA Missile Systems) and consultancy firms (The Technology Partnership). This experience helped me lead the redesign of our main teaching laboratory in 2017 and create facilities that enable our academics to furnish students with the skills needed in the modern industrial world.  Each bench in this lab provides a network of connected instrumentation, which may be accessed remotely via a web interface. This future-proof design proved extremely useful during lockdowns since it allowed students to access lab benches remotely and carry out a variety of experiments from anywhere in the world.

My role has presented many challenges over the years, but I find it extremely rewarding.

Whilst I enjoy seeing how students develop thanks to the learning opportunities that I provide, what I truly love to see is what I can inspire them to do: their creativity and achievements inspire me right back!

How did you feel when you found out you had been shortlisted for the award?

I was very moved by the nominations that I have received for this award. I consider myself very blessed to have such motivated and understanding students and such wonderful colleagues.

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