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An Investigation into How Students Spend Their Time During Study Breaks

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

First-year Programs: Focus on Students

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Christopher Rennick University of Waterloo Orcid 16x16

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Mr. Christopher Rennick received his B.A.Sc., Honours Electrical Engineering in 2007 and his M.A.Sc. in Electrical Engineering in 2009, both from the University of Windsor, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Chris is currently a PhD student in Management Sciences at the University of Waterloo.
Since 2010, he has been employed with the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada as teaching staff.

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Carol Hulls P.Eng. University of Waterloo Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Carol Hulls, P.Eng. is a Continuing Lecturer in the Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering Department at the University of Waterloo. She has been teaching courses in programming and digital logic since 1999, mostly to first-year engineering students. Always looking to improve classroom learning, she has tried a variety of techniques including Tablet teaching, flipped classrooms, experiential learning, and gamification. She received her BASc, MASc, and PhD from the University of Waterloo in Electrical and Computer Engineering. In 2016 she received the Brightspace Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning.

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Mary A. Robinson University of Waterloo

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Ms. Mary Robinson is a Lecturer at the University of Waterloo, where she also serves as Associate Director First Year Engineering. Mary received both her BASc and MASc in Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo and has been teaching since 2007. In 2018, Mary received the CEEA-ACEG Ron Britton Engineering Education Vanguard Award and continues to work to improve the undergraduate engineering student experience, both in and out of the classroom.

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This complete research paper will describe an investigation in to how first-year engineering students spend their time during mid-semester breaks. Fall breaks have become a reality at the majority of Canadian universities, though somewhat remarkably, there has been very little investigation into the impact of these breaks on students. At [University], a two-day fall break, following the holiday Monday of Canadian thanksgiving (the second Monday in October) was added on a three-year trial starting in 2016, with the stated goal of helping student mental health by allowing a time to catch up on classwork before the stressful midterm period. Fall break was extended to be a full week at [University] beginning in fall 2019 on a three-year trial, based on the resounding positive response captured in institution-wide student surveys. In 2017, the authors noticed a reduction in midterm grades for specific populations of first-year engineering students following the fall break and began investigating the effects. To mitigate the perceived harmful effects of the fall reading break on these students, an academic and social intervention was instituted during the two-day study break in fall 2018, and a four-day intervention in fall 2019. An evaluation study of the fall 2018 intervention was completed in winter 2019, which showed a positive response from students. In this paper, the authors continue their investigation into the impacts of the fall break on students, with an emphasis on international and out of province students as this group is unlikely to return home during the break. This investigation was conducted as a concurrent mixed-methods study consisting of surveys, with semi-structured interviews with students. Purposive sampling of students who remained on campus was used for the interviews to ensure their perspective was captured by the researchers. Results show a significant number of students, regardless of where they spent the break, studied inefficiently during the break from school, which is reflected in their academic performance; and students who remained on campus while most of their peers left, found the time lonely and largely unproductive.

Rennick, C., & Hulls, C., & Robinson, M. A. (2020, June), An Investigation into How Students Spend Their Time During Study Breaks Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34138

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