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A Tale of Two Common Reads: Models for Developing a Successful Common Reading Program for First-year Engineering Students

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-year Programs Division Technical Session 9: Focus on Student Learning, Lifelong Learning, and the Whole Student

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.122.1 - 26.122.13



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Paper Authors


Stacie Edington University of Michigan

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Stacie Edington is the Honors and Engagement Program Officer within the University of Michigan, College of Engineering.

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Archie L Holmes Jr. University of Virginia

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Archie is a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and serves as Vice Provost for Educational Innovation and Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Virginia.

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Petra Reinke University of Virginia

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Petra Reinke started her career with a M.S. degree in Chemistry and a PhD in Physics from the Technical University Munich in Germany, and then moved to the Universities in Canada and Switzerland to build her research in surface and nanoscience. She moved to the University of Virginia in 2003 and continues to study a wide range of surfaces, and has been engaged in the Common Reading experience for a decade.

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A Tale of Two Common Reads: Models for Developing a Successful Common Reading Program for First Year Engineering StudentsCommon reading program offered at the start of the first year provide a valuable opportunity tomodel intellectual engagement among engineers, broaden students’ thinking about the role ofengineers in society and forge connections between first-year students and the larger engineeringcommunity, including faculty. While many institutions offer university-wide common readingprograms, or programs designed for liberal arts majors, few institutions have designed a commonread for engineering students. Common reading programs provide a valuable mechanism to setthe stage early for educational goals that will be developed later in the engineering curriculum.Two large public research institutions with successful common reading programs within theschool of engineering (80-95% student participation) will compare and contrast approaches toprogram development, including recommended practices for book selection process, bookdistribution, communication plans, discussion group format, facilitator training and enrichmentevent planning. One institution’s approach requires students to purchase the book during thepre-semester welcome week and subsequently, all students attend a faculty-led discussion beforeclasses begin. The other institution provides books to the students during the beginning of thesummer and utilizes student-led discussions during the entire first month of classes,supplemental events throughout the semester and integration into a first-year engineering class.In addition to exploring differences such as these, commonalities between the two approacheswill be identified and highlighted.The traditional model of small group, faculty-led discussions of no more than 20 students will beoutlined. Additionally, one institution has explored new models for scalability through a pilotprogram, including student-led larger group discussions of 50-100 participants. Through thepilot program we implemented a mix of small group discussions and larger scale formatteddiscussion and assessed each for effectiveness in meeting intended outcomes.Assessment will structured as follows:1) Every participant (nearly 1300 first-year students) from one institution completed a paper- based survey upon the completion of the book discussion group. Data has been collected over a two-year period.2) Online surveys and focus groups with discussion facilitators at both institutions will be conducted to assess effectiveness of the program from the facilitator perspective and to develop guidelines for best practices in framing discussion sessions.3) Paper-based surveys of participants and focus groups with facilitators will be used to compare the new scalable pilot format to the traditional discussion format control groups.In this paper, we will compare and contrast strategies for the development of a successfulcommon reading program for engineers and share findings of the scalability pilot assessment andthe program outcomes assessment overall.

Edington, S., & Holmes, A. L., & Reinke, P. (2015, June), A Tale of Two Common Reads: Models for Developing a Successful Common Reading Program for First-year Engineering Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23463

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