Faculty Experiences with K-State Engineering LEA/RN

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1 Faculty Experiences with K-State Engineering LEA/RN Steve Starrett 1, Justin Benna 4, Jim DeVault 2, Richard Gallagher 3, Barbara Licklider 4, Russ Meier 2, and Jan Wiersema 4 1 Department of Civil Engineering, 2 Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, 3 College of Engineering, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Iowa State University, Ames, IA Abstract Engineering LEA/RN is a new faculty development program offered by the College of Engineering at Kansas State University. A group of twentyfive faculty members is about to complete the first year of the program. The group has studied student-centered learning, active learning techniques, active learning lesson planning, and selected topics in learning theory during four-hour time blocks once per month. Base groups of faculty members have also met to continue studying between the monthly meetings. By learning about learning, the faculty members have re-examined their college classrooms and applied much of their learned knowledge within their courses. This paper outlines Engineering LEA/RN and provides faculty feedback about the program and the successes and failures witnessed in the classroom. Background: Advancing the Quality of Education At Kansas State University, College of Engineering we have made a conscious commitment for our engineering education to be focused on the learner [1]. We want our students educational experiences to be practice oriented while firmly rooted in fundamentals, to be learning based, and to be integrative and holistic. As the technology and information explosion continues it is becoming increasingly difficult to present in the classroom and laboratory all that is necessary for our graduates to be successful in their profession. Thus, we feel it is important for our graduates to take with them the ability to learn and grow in their profession. Our thesis is the following. If we can inspire students to be active learners they will carry this desire into their professional lives and will be life-long learners. Of course, the notion of having our graduates possess life-long learning skills is strongly supported by our industrial partners and ABET. This provides additional motivation for our administration and faculty to focus on a new and evolving paradigm of teaching. This new paradigm of teaching, which emphasizes learning, moves the student from being the passive observer to being an active participant in the educational process. In addition, by uniting the many strategies of this new paradigm of teaching our students will be more successful in their immediate academic efforts. The students will become more active in the development of their own knowledge base and competencies. They will learn to work together in teams and build interpersonal skills, both concepts being extremely difficult to promote and enhance in the traditional teaching paradigm of lecture and individual study. During the academic year the K-State College of Engineering partnered with the staff from Project LEA/RN (Learning Enhancement Action/Resource Network) 1 at Iowa State University to implement Engineering LEA/RN. The purpose of K-State Engineering LEA/RN is twofold: To enhance development of faculty knowledge and skills related to classroom and laboratory instruction and to provide empowered student learning. With both the faculty and students in mind, the keys for success of Engineering LEA/RN involve volunteer faculty participation, open and supportive communication among faculty members, an element of peer coaching, a desire to learn new strategies, and the use of research-based elements of effective faculty development. The new strategies focus on learning and teaching theories; active cognitive processing; and promoting higher levels of thinking and critical reasoning, higher student achievement, and increased student retention. More than twenty faculty members have continued with the program and are actively involved in implementing a variety of strategies in classes with both large and small enrollments. The following section will describe some faculty experiences and provide insight into the benefits of incorporating active learning techniques in an engineering classroom. 12d7-1

2 Faculty Experiences in the Classroom A 32-question survey asking about experiences with Engineering LEA/RN was developed and distributed to the participating faculty members. The questions asked faculty participants what they think of the active learning techniques that have been presented in Engineering LEA/RN, how effective the techniques have been, what have been the student reactions, and what the participants think about the Engineering LEA/RN activities. About 40% of the participants returned a completed survey (Table 1). Table 1. Summary of Engineering LEA/RN Participant Survey Results Specific to Classroom Experiences with Active Learning Techniques. Category % of Respondents that Agree TTYP works great 100 Techniques convey points better 63 Positive student response 100 Received better feedback from students 100 Student learning has improved 56 Hard to tell if student learning improved 44 Students seem more motivated 100 Several faculty members noted that TTYP 2 exercises are flexible and easy to use. TTYP exercises keep the students focused on the subject and are also well received. Good feedback to the instructor is critical in the teaching process and the surveyed faculty members felt active learning techniques greatly improved feedback received. One faculty member mentioned that by coaching groups during TTYP exercises he answers at least ten times the number of questions he would have answered during a traditional lecture. Base groups have not been implemented by the surveyed faculty. The faculty felt either their classes were too small or too much organization time was required to get base groups implemented in larger classes. Participates felt unsure if active learning techniques improved the students learning because there are so many factors that impact student learning, it is difficult to isolate one factor. One faculty participant described a possibly common occurrence when using active learning techniques with students who have not been exposed to them before. He was teaching a Statics class with about 75 students. A student that had a hyperactive personality thought TTYPs were a waste of time, he was frustrated if he had any difficulties during the TTYP and was vocal about it. The student asked the instructor to just work examples on the board and I ll work the homework problems later. Several students spoke up and stated they liked the TTYPs because they were immediately able to fill in the gaps in their understanding of the topic. Students have also grown accustomed to sitting in lecture, taking notes, figuring out how to do the homework later, and now they are asked to think in class and it may still be before noon. So, one can expect some to be opposed to active learning techniques. Example Classroom Exercises The survey asked Engineering LEA/RN faculty members to share example classroom activities that they have planned or stories about active learning in their classrooms. The intent was to include these responses in this paper as a way to share how the faculty members were integrating their learning about learning into their classrooms. Five responses are documented in this paper. Example activities from Industrial Engineering, Computer Engineering, and Civil Engineering are included. The final paragraphs relate a story about one Electrical Engineering faculty member s active learning classroom. Engineering Management One Sentence Summary (OSS) Instructional level: Graduate Enrollment: 12 Time length: 10 minutes individual, possible out of class teamwork Activity statement: We ve talked about organizational design and divided it into five characteristics called job design, reporting relationships, coordination, department design, and authority. Each of you has been assigned to one of five groups. Each group has been assigned one of the five characteristics. Your group task is to write a onesentence summary (OSS) of your characteristic. To begin, individually take 10 minutes to put together some thoughts of your own. Then, meet as a group to discuss your sentences. Try to integrate common themes. You may find that your topic area is large enough to create two or three OSS summaries. That is okay. Put your OSS summaries on a transparency for presentation to the class. Remember, the format of OSS is who/does what/to what or whom/when/where/how/why. Instructor feedback: This exercise worked very well. The instructor stated that the student groups definitely met his expectations and his learning goals were accomplished by the exercise. The quality of the student s work demonstrated high levels of thinking. The instructor had explained his participation in Engineering LEA/RN to the students. 12d7-2

3 Student feedback: The instructor states that the students enjoyed the exercise. The students all concurred that OSS is an excellent summarization technique and allows articulation of key points. Rapid Systems Prototyping Jigsaw Instructional level: Undergraduate and graduate Enrollment: 6 Time length: Out of class work, 20 minutes of group processing Activity statement: Each of you has been assigned the letter S or C. If your letter is S, create your own state machine description language by the next class. If your letter is C, create your own combinational-circuit description language by the next class. What will be your keywords? What does an example circuit description look like in your language? During the next class, you will be partnered with a student who worked on the opposite task. Together, you will share your languages and examples. From your discussion, you will recycle your languages into one language capable of expressing both sequential and combinational circuits. Instructor feedback: This activity was somewhat successful. Each student did work on a language outside of class. Only one student had really given deep thought to his language, however. He had included example circuit descriptions and comments on what the language could and could not express. The other students had not formulated example circuit descriptions in their languages. The instructor attributes this not to a lack of creativity or individual accountability but to the timing of this activity during the semester. The activity was done the week before Spring Break. Traditionally, many exams and projects are all scheduled during that week. Interestingly, the student who was most successful individually had just as many projects and exams as the other students did! The in class jigsaw with team members did not work effectively, of course, because the students had not properly prepared their assignments. Student feedback: The instructor reported that the students stated they would have enjoyed the exercise if it had not been assigned during the week before Spring Break. Statics Problem Solving Pairs (PSP) Instructional level: Undergraduate Enrollment: 75 Time length: 15 minutes Activity statement: You have just been introduced to the fact that the sum of the forces on a body, and the sum of the moments on a body, must equal zero for the body to be in static equilibrium. I have also worked an example for you, now work problem #24 (similar to example problem) in small groups while I go around and coach. I ll work the problem on the board before the end of the period. Instructor feedback: I have had great success with TTYP exercises. As I walk around the class I ll ask groups, Any progress? and I ll often get, Well, we are unsure The students are much more willing to ask questions in these small group settings. Student feedback:. This class was immediately after lunch in often a warm room. Students had difficulty staying alert when I lectured for extended periods, so, TTYP exercises greatly helped them stay focused on the subject and provide an easy avenue to ask questions. Microcontrollers Turn to your partner (TTYP) Instructional level: Undergraduate Enrollment: 55 Time length: 5 minutes Activity statement: You have been given a segment of Motorola MC68HC11 assembly language code. Judge the code segment. Work individually for two minutes. Time will be called. Turn to your partner. Share your opinion of the code segment. Listen to your partner s opinion. Recycle your opinions to form a group evaluation of the code segment. Be prepared to share your group evaluation with the class. Instructor feedback: This TTYP activity worked extraordinarily well. Student teams did a fantastic job evaluating the code segment. They correctly judged the size, speed, and power characteristics together. This is studentcentered learning! The students were proud of their solutions and were prepared to support their decision. Student feedback:. The instructor states that this course uses TTYP at least once per lecture. Students have been given the opportunity to do mid-semester course evaluations. The results indicate that the students really enjoy TTYP exercises. The activity allows them to learn from each other, apply social skills, and stay active during the lecture. A classroom story: An interesting experience in classroom dynamics that both incorporates the basic techniques being practiced by the Engineering LEA/RN participants and exemplifies the active-learning approach to engineering education was reported. The instructor is currently teaching a design-oriented electronic instrumentation course to a combination of senior and graduate students. On the first day of class, and before distributing a course syllabus, a colorful brochure describing a commercially available electronic instrument was circulated 12d7-3

4 and the class was asked to hypothesize as to what might be in the box. That is, what electronic circuitry or subsystems might be required to implement the functions available in this instrument? Ideas were first listed and then organized into a block diagram. At this point, the students were told that the class would design and produce a similar instrument as the semester's work and that methods of evaluation to support the assignment of a course grade for each student would be discussed in a few days. As the assignment for the second class meeting, students were asked to develop task lists for the work required to implement the various subsystems. During the following several meetings, the task lists were refined and time estimates were assigned to each of the tasks. Finally, a basic project plan was constructed identifying task interdependencies and establishing a baseline schedule. With this in place, the students were asked to come to the next meeting prepared to share information with their classmates about their backgrounds, skills, experiences, and interests. In effect, they were asked to interview for jobs within the project framework. Somewhat surprisingly, the students essentially selforganized themselves into subgroups and identified task responsibilities to fit the project plan. Only after the basic project plan was established and the students knew what their roles would be were the issues of evaluation and course grades addressed. The instructor set a boundary by declaring that there would be two levels of student responsibility. First, each student would be responsible for the details of the work in which they were directly involved. Second, all students would be held responsible for a technical understanding of the entire project but at a less detailed level. The students agreed that individual laboratory notebooks documenting all aspects of their design efforts would be an important component of a successful project and should be the subject of evaluation by the instructor. Further, it was decided that periodic design reviews would be required so that the entire class would understand the whole project. It was decided that these weekly presentations would be peer evaluated as to their effectiveness in providing the necessary information to the class to support the requirement that all students would be held responsible for all the work being done. As a supplement, the instructor agreed to provide periodic "short courses" on topics useful to the project. A list-serve was set up to facilitate communication. Finally, a "concession" was made to the university system by scheduling a final examination for the course. This experimental approach has given ownership of the project (and, essentially, of the class) to the students. The instructor has only somewhat jokingly suggested that he would change his business card to read "facilitator" instead of "professor". The focus has been shifted from grading scales and point systems to the accomplishment of useful and visible task. The students have established a clearly defined goal, and have assumed much of the responsibility for their learning. While this remains a work in progress, it is already apparent that the students are highly motivated and are learning more about engineering than can be incorporated in any textbook. Faculty Experiences with Engineering LEA/RN Program Engineering LEA/RN participants were also asked about their general thoughts on learner-centered techniques and the activities associated with Engineering LEA/RN (Table 2). All respondents felt their participation in Engineering LEA/RN had improved their teaching ability; however, since measuring changes in students learning ability is very difficult, only 56% felt that students learning ability had noticeable improved. One-half of the faculty members believed improving their teaching abilities would enhance their careers. Almost all respondents thought covering less material was ok if it is learned much better. The Engineering LEA/RN experience has changed the view of the instructor s job for most involved. Many credit the exposure to educational theory and educationallybased research findings causing this change. The respondents also listed items that they were unaware of before their involvement with Engineering LEA/RN : educationally-based research results showing advantages of active learning techniques, learning is very social, the levels of learning (knowledge, analysis, synthesis), that somewhat Table 2. Summary of Engineering LEA/RN participant Survey Results Specific to Issues with Active Learning Techniques. Category % of Respondents that Agree Improved teaching ability 100 Techniques take more time 63 Takes about 20% more 67 Ok to cover less material better 88 More experience = more material covered 25 Faculty comfortable with techniques 56 Plan to continue 88 Extra time is worth it wrt students 75 Unsure if extra time is worth it 25 Extra time is worth it wrt career 50 Unsure if extra time is worth it 38 More group work has increased grades 25 Using more peer evaluation 13 View of instructor changed 75 12d7-4

5 less material is ok since learned better, the development of general and specific objectives can help, and the fact that most everything interactive is effective [2]. Respondents also listed some reasons they think some students are resistant to active learning processes: some students just do not like to work with others, laziness, shyness, resistant to change, lack of understanding of instructor s motivation and a few high achievers feel it is a waste of time. Summary As the first year of our experience with K-State Engineering LEA/RN nears completion, the participating faculty are discovering new roles for themselves as facilitators and learning partners. Classroom activities have expanded to reflect a variety of active learning strategies and most students are responding with enthusiasm. This partnership with the Iowa State University s Project LEA/RN has provided K-State engineering faculty with: exposure to the latest educational research findings and ready access to expertise in both interpretation and application, structured support for experimenting with a variety of new strategies in their classrooms, and a supply of techniques, strategies, and methods that are carefully modeled prior to implementation. As a consequence of this work, those K-State engineering students enrolled in participants' courses have: evolved from passive observers to active participants, accepted increased responsibility for their personal progress and achievement, and enhanced their ability to work as members of a team. It is intended that these experiences will provide our students with the necessary foundation to support a lifetime of learning. The participating faculty continue to experiment. The project provides a sounding board and a source of encouragement as new techniques are tried. Much is yet to come as faculty are themselves learning about learning. Literature Cited 1) King, T.S. (1998). Designing Engineering Education for the 21 st Century. College of Engineering, Kansas State University. February ) Johnson, D.W, Johnson, R.T. and Smith, K.A.. (1991). ACTIVE LEARNING: Cooperation in the College Classroom. Interaction Book Company. Edina, Minnesota. 1 Project LEA/RN (Learning Enhancement Action /Resource Network) is an faculty improvement model developed to improve student learning by enhancing professors' knowledge and skills related to learning and teaching. See Fulton, C: & Licklider, B.L. (1998) Supporting faculty development in an era of change. To Improve the Academy. (1998 ed.) Further reading related to engineering educator development, see Fulton, C.; & Licklider, B.L. (1998). Re-engineering faculty development: Lessons LEA/RN ed ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings. 2 TTYP (Turn to Your Partner) is an informal cooperative learning strategy adapted from "Simultaneous Explanation Pairs" (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991). It is the first interactive strategy introduced to LEA/RN participants, as well as the first strategy the participants are encouraged to incorporate into their classes. The strategy has been especially useful in: opening class to focus attention, highlighting a key point, assessing understanding, and energizing/refocusing the mind when attention is waning. For the information you need to successfully use TTYP, contact Project LEA/RN : 12d7-5

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