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Chalkboard vs. Paper: Technique for Improving Collaboration in Active Learning Activities

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Teaming & Collaborative Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Hadas Ritz Cornell University, College of Engineering Orcid 16x16

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Hadas Ritz is a lecturer in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. She teaches required and elective courses covering a wide range of topics in the undergraduate Mechanical Engineering curriculum, including introductory calculus. Her main teaching interests include solid mechanics and finite element analysis. Ritz was recognized with a 2013 Cornell College of Engineering Excellence in Teaching Award. She received her PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell in 2008.

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Lisa Schneider-Bentley Cornell University, College of Engineering

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Lisa Schneider-Bentley has been the Director of Engineering Learning Initiatives in Cornell University’s College of Engineering since 2002. Learning Initiatives’ programs enhance the educational environment of the College by facilitating opportunities for collaborative learning, undergraduate research, teaching skill development, peer instruction, and leadership development. Schneider-Bentley received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Cornell in 1997. Before taking her current position, she taught Sociology as an assistant professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and then served as Senior Director of Research and Evaluation at PowerUP, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding technology access and providing youth development resources for underserved youth. Schneider-Bentley’s current research interests include race, class, and gender inequality in educational access and retention, in particular, issues of access, climate, and the quality of student learning in undergraduate engineering education.

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At this research university (RU/VH), engineering students enrolled in the required first-semester calculus course participate in interactive workshops during discussion sections 8-10 times during the semester. In these workshops, students work in groups to solve relevant engineering-related problems. The goals include helping students a) develop a deeper understanding of calculus concepts, b) engage with their interests earlier in the curriculum, and c) experience positive peer-to-peer learning.

During Fall 2015 we conducted a small-scale experiment comparing different formats for workshop completion. Students enrolled in two out of the 12 discussion sections (the experimental sections) completed the workshop problems together in their small groups at chalkboards, yielding one written solution for each group. The rest of the students, enrolled in the other discussion sections (the control group), collaborated together sitting at tables, with each student ultimately responsible for completing her or his own solution on paper. The control group methodology, completing the workshops on paper, has been used for the workshops since their inception close to a decade ago.

Data collection during that small-scale experiment included: observation (including limited video recording) of experimental and control group workshop sections to detect possible differences in student interactions; student feedback regarding self-reported experiences of the value of the group work and the effects on their understanding of the material; and exit interviews with teaching assistants (TAs) regarding their observations.

The results of the Fall 2015 study were extremely promising. Feedback from the participating TAs indicated a strong preference for running the workshops at the chalkboards. They noted an increased level of interaction among the students, improved ability to monitor groups’ progress, and faster completion time with less need for TA intervention. The data from student feedback was less conclusive. Some benefits of chalkboard work clearly supported by the data include an improvement of student perception of problem difficulty and length. Other measures, such as whether students felt they learned something new or whether the workshops enhanced their understanding of calculus topics, favored chalkboard work in one TA’s sections but showed no meaningful difference in the other TA’s sections.

Based on the results of that initial study, during Fall 2016 we conducted an expanded experiment, with the same data collection, but involving all 300 students enrolled in the course. Each student completed approximately half of the workshops on paper and half at the chalkboards. Each TA led workshop sections both ways. Data collection is not complete, but preliminary feedback from the TAs again shows a strong preference for the chalkboard format. In this paper we will present analysis of the feedback from students from Fall 2016, focusing on any differences in perceived value of the group work or understanding of the material between chalkboard and paper formats. If student feedback data supports it, moving to work at chalkboards could be an easy way to increase the efficacy of collaborative active learning sessions.

Ritz, H., & Schneider-Bentley, L. (2017, June), Chalkboard vs. Paper: Technique for Improving Collaboration in Active Learning Activities Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28020

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