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A Study of Available Time for Engineering Undergraduates’ Involvement in Co-curricular Activities

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2021 ASEE St. Lawrence Section Conference



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April 17, 2021

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April 17, 2021

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April 17, 2021

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Andrew Olewnik University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

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Andrew Olewnik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at the University at Buffalo. His research includes undergraduate engineering education with focus on engineering design process and methods, ill-structured problem solving, problem typology, and experiential and informal learning environments in the professional formation of engineers. He is interested in the development of tools, methods, and strategies that aid in engineering problem definition, and problem solving discourse among students, faculty, and practitioners. Dr. Olewnik is also the Director of Experiential Learning for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

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Sreeram Kashyap University at Buffalo, State University of New York

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Introduction: Universities serve a great purpose in preparing the next generation of professionals. As such they must equip their students not only with their desired hard skills but also with the right set of soft skills needed to make them industry ready. Most institutions of higher education encourage their students to pursue co-curricular opportunities in order to ensure a more holistic educational experience. Co-curricular activities like student clubs, internships, undergraduate research, service learning, and learning communities, are recognized as “high-impact” experiences. Participating in co-curricular activities enable students to supplement their learning through experiences that make students more competitive candidates for employment because they foster development of technical and professional competencies in ways that can be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate authentically in a classroom. They also promote the development of 21st century skills necessary for individuals who are agile in their thinking and capable of acquiring and applying new knowledge, methods and tools. As highlighted by the National Research Council autonomy, self-direction, and lifelong learning are important facets of that preparation, and co-curriculars foster such skills.

Despite the value of co-curricular activities, it is reported in the literature that engineering students are less likely to pursue co-curricular opportunities. Engineering undergraduates already have immense demands of their time from the mandated curriculum and other personal commitments, like work, which may make meaningful co-curricular participation challenging. This study is focused on developing a baseline model of the possible available time for engineering undergraduates to participate in co-curricular activities. Focus: The major hindrance for the inclusion of co-curricular activities is the availability of time for students after completion of course work and other daily activities. This study considered two questions important to understanding the potential impact of co-curricular engagement. First, how many hours per week might students have available for participation in co-curricular activities? Second, when and how long are the available unscheduled times in a students’ weekly schedule? These questions are asked from the perspective of the experiential learning program at the University at Buffalo, which is focused on developing and promoting co-curricular experiences to engineering undergraduates as a supplement to the classroom. Through this study, we seek to estimate the time distribution for a variety of student activities and to identify key time clusters where co-curriculars might be accommodated.

Methods: This study reports on an exploratory analysis of two institutional data sources, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and the class schedule data for all undergraduates for one semester. Using the class schedules and self-report data reflecting student daily activities from the NSSE, we simulated the weekly time commitments of students necessary to complete course work (e.g. attending class, homework) and other necessary daily activities (e.g. sleeping, working, commuting). Based on this simulated data, we developed a distribution of the “residual time.” This estimate provides a baseline for the amount of time available for students where co-curricular activities might be accommodated. We also analyzed the class schedule data to form a heatmap depicting the distribution of classes for all students combined. The resulting heatmap is used to identify possible times when co-curricular programming might be optimally offered in order to engage the most possible students.

Results: The simulation study showed that the expected students residual time is 2.7 hours per day and ranges from 0 to 7 hours per day during weekdays. The schedule analysis showed that there are openings in student schedules that provide adequate time for individualized co-curricular engagement. The heatmap analysis shows evident clusters where students have availability in their schedules, which can help to guide the formation of co-curricular project teams.

Implications: This study, based on available institutional data, helps to establish a baseline understanding of student availability for co-curricular engagement. This baseline can be used to inform a variety of stakeholders, including students, academic advisors, departmental curriculum planners, school administrators, and individuals responsible for staffing co-curricular facilities. In short, we see such analysis as an important input to a discussion that should occur between these stakeholders regarding how to balance and optimize curricular and co-curricular learning. While this baseline analysis can be a useful starting point, it also exposes a number of issues that need further study. These issues include a need to better understand how students spend their time on academic activities, the assumptions made by faculty about the amount of time assignments and projects should take students to complete, and the impact of socioeconomic factors on student time for curricular, co-curricular, and non-curricular activities. By acquiring more data to fine tune the results of this study we can work toward a more holistic educational experience for students of all demographic backgrounds.

Olewnik, A., & Kashyap, S. (2021, April), A Study of Available Time for Engineering Undergraduates’ Involvement in Co-curricular Activities Paper presented at 2021 ASEE St. Lawrence Section Conference, Virtual. 10.18260/1-2--38291

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