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Active Learning in Engineering: Perspectives from Graduate Student Instructors

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Training and Mentoring of Graduate Teaching Assistants

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.136.1 - 23.136.24



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Paper Authors


Tershia A. Pinder-Grover University of Michigan

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Tershia Pinder-Grover is an Assistant Director at the Center for Research on Learning in Teaching (CRLT) and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering (CRLT-Engin) at the University of Michigan (U-M). In these roles, she is responsible for teacher training for new engineering graduate student instructors (GSIs), consultations with faculty and GSIs on pedagogy, workshops on teaching and learning, and preparing future faculty programs. Prior to joining CRLT, she earned her B.S. degree in Fire Protection Engineering from the University of Maryland and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the U-M. Her current research interests include examining the effect of instructional technology on student learning and performance and assessing GSIs' perception and use of active learning teaching methods.

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Active Learning in Engineering: Perspectives from Graduate Student InstructorsAbstractEquipping graduate students with the skills they need to succeed in an academic career is aparamount issue in engineering education. There has been much concern that while graduatestudents receive extensive support in developing themselves as research scholars, there are fewopportunities for them to receive training on how to teach effectively.1,2,3 Further, therecommendation in the Educating the Engineer of 2020 (p. 92) calls for creating learningenvironments “in which students (1) were more actively engaged than taking notes, (2) focusedon problems, design challenges and artifacts in addition to concepts, and (3) often worked withother students to understand and complete assigned tasks.4” Since active learning teachingmethods, like the ones mentioned in this report, have been shown to improve student learning5and retention6 preparing engineering graduate student instructors to incorporate these methodsinto their teaching is vital.The purpose of this paper is to explore engineering graduate students’ perceptions of theirteaching experiences, especially their use of active learning teaching methods at a large publicresearch university. At this university, all new engineering graduate student instructors orteaching assistants (TAs) are required to participate in an all-day pedagogical training designedby engineering faculty/TA developers prior to the start of classes. Additionally, they areexpected to participate in a microteaching session focusing specifically on planning andimplementing a lesson that includes active learning. With this institution’s focus on engagementpedagogies as a part of the teaching preparation for new instructors, this paper investigates thefollowing research questions:  How do graduate student instructors describe ‘active learning’ and use these teaching methods in their classes?  What factors contribute to the likelihood that a graduate student instructor will adopt the use of active learning in their teaching practice?To address these questions, all engineering TAs were invited to participate in an online surveywhich collected data about their teaching experiences (including terms of teaching andresponsibilities), their definition of “active learning,” and their use of these teaching methods.Our data shows that the majority of respondents value “good teaching” and can articulate howthey apply active learning in their classes. Further, the majority apply these approaches at leastonce per week and believe they are “somewhat successful” or “very successful” with theirimplementation. Those respondents who did not use active learning were unsure how to usethese methods in their specific class, believe that their teaching responsibilities did not allowthem to use these approaches, or did not feel as though active learning was necessary. Thisproposed paper will examine these responses further to determine whether or not their teachingresponsibilities, their confidence with a variety of teaching-related tasks (e.g., lesson planning,working with students, etc.), and use of teaching peer mentors influence their decisions toincorporate active learning into their teaching practice. Recommendations for faculty supervisorsand TA training program organizers will be provided.References1. Golde, C.M., & Dore, T.M. (2001). At cross purposes: What the experiences of doctoral students reveal about doctoral education. Philadelphia, PA: Pew Charitable Trusts.2. Luft, J.A., Kurdziel, J.P., Roehrig, G. H., & Turner, J. (2004). Growing a garden without water: Graduate teaching assistants in introductory science laboratories at a doctoral/research university. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41 (3), 211–233.3. Stice, J., Felder, R., Woods, D. & Rugarcia, A. (2000). The future of engineering education IV. Learning how to teach. Chemical Engineering Education, 34 (2), 118–127.4. National Academy of Engineering. (2005) Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century. Washington D.C.: National Academies Press5. Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93 (3), 223-231.6. Bullard, L., Felder, R., & Raubenheimer, D. (2008, June). Effects of active learning on student performance and retention. Paper presented at the 2008 American Society for Engineering Education Conference and Exposition. Pittsburgh, PA.

Pinder-Grover, T. A. (2013, June), Active Learning in Engineering: Perspectives from Graduate Student Instructors Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19150

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