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An Investigation Of The Relationship Between Graduate Teaching Assistant Perceptions And Success Of Active Learning Techniques In An Engineering Education Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Faculty Attitudes and Perceptions

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.196.1 - 13.196.14



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Paper Authors


Sarah Zappe Pennsylvania State University

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Sarah E. Zappe is Research Associate and Director of Assessment and Instructional Support for the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Pennsylvania State University. Her expertise and research interests relate to the use of think-aloud methodologies to elicit cognitive processes and strategies in assessment and related tasks. In her position, Dr. Zappe is responsible for supporting curricular assessment and developing instructional support programs for faculty and teaching assistants in the College of Engineering. She can be contacted at

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Natalia Kapli Pennsylvania State University

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Natalia Kapli is a Ph.D. Candidate in Instructional Systems at the Pennsylvania State University. She works as a graduate assistant with Leonhard Center at College of Engineering. Her research interests include development of expertise, active learning, and motivation. She can be contacted at

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

An Investigation of the Relationship between Graduate Teaching Assistant Perceptions and Success of Active Learning Techniques in an Engineering Education Course


Active learning is extremely prevalent in discussions of how to improve teaching and learning in both undergraduate and graduate engineering courses. However, active learning may not always lead to success. Rather, characteristics of the students enrolled and of the course material may influence whether or not active learning is met with resistance. This project examines the relationship between graduate students’ perception of active learning techniques and the success of these techniques in an engineering education course entitled, “Teaching Seminar for Graduate Assistants.” The context of the project surrounds three sections of a course which were taught in the same semester by the same instructor on different days of the week. Although the same activities were used in each section, resistance was more evident in one section as compared to the other two. Students across all sections were surveyed to examine their perceptions regarding course effectiveness, relevance of the course, helpfulness of class activities, and views on active learning. Students who found the course to be relevant to themselves and their future careers were more likely to provide a positive perspective on active learning techniques. In addition to a detailed analysis of the scale data, the limitations of the study regarding the specialized population enrolled in the course are discussed.


Walk into any faculty development seminar in the College of Engineering on any campus and you are likely to hear a similar mantra. If an instructor wants to improve his or her teaching and subsequently increase student learning, he or she should use active learning techniques. Active learning is arguably the most prescribed solution to easing educational problems and enhancing student learning for faculty within any discipline. In fact, research has generally supported that active learning strategies are likely to result in higher student engagement and greater learning gains than traditional instructor-centered methods.1 However, what is missing from the literature is a balanced perspective regarding the use of active learning including empirical research on why active learning techniques might fail and on specific techniques to use when active learning is seemingly ineffective.

The purpose of this paper is to begin to explore this side of active learning, focusing on what variables might be related to or influence students’ perceptions of active learning techniques. In order to explore this perspective, an examination of three sections of an engineering education course is described. These three sections had seemingly differential impact, although the instructor and time of day remained consistent.

Research on how students learn has reiterated that students need to be actively engaged with course material. For example, the National Research Council states that, “Overall, the new

Zappe, S., & Kapli, N. (2008, June), An Investigation Of The Relationship Between Graduate Teaching Assistant Perceptions And Success Of Active Learning Techniques In An Engineering Education Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3469

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