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Cognitive Learning In Introductory College Science Education

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Innovative Classroom Techniques

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.325.1 - 11.325.12



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Paper Authors


Eileen Kowalski U.S. Military Academy

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Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry and Life Sciences

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Joe Manous U.S. Military Academy

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Academy Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering

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

Cognitive Learning in Introductory College Science Education


Webster’s Dictionary1 defines education as “… discipline of mind or character through study or instruction” and includes “teaching and learning” or more simply the providing and gaining of knowledge. Unfortunately, this straightforward construct for the activity of education is so broad as to include a wide range of interpretations and possible outcome goals. Defining the “best” outcome from a particular education experience has become a challenging and important exercise within the field of education to include engineering education. During the 19th and most of the 20th century, undergraduate engineering education was based on lecture, recitation, problem sets, and design problems. The goal of these exercises was to expose students to a range of problem types typically encountered within a given field of engineering. This academic experience prepared them for post-baccalaureate education, which included both formal graduate level studies and fieldwork under the supervision of a trained supervisor. Engineering apprenticeship has been institutionalized for many engineering disciplines through professional licensure to include a formal Engineering-in-Training period that requires direct supervision by a licensed engineer. While this educational process has served the public well, it does have shortcomings. The shortcomings of “traditional” engineering education are subtle, but important. Primarily, the lecture, recitation, problem sets, and design problem methods assume that key basic science and engineering science concepts can be studied and learned in an undergraduate program. In practice, this assumption may not be true or even practical. Compounding the issue is the identification of which concepts are key as there are differences of opinion by educators and practioners as to which concepts belong in this category. Also at issue is the adoption of academic outcome goals, which generally include a provision that engineering education is to provide the undergraduate with those technical skills and requisite knowledge needed to be productive as they start their next field of endeavor, whether graduate studies or engineering practice. Clearly, this outcome goal is entirely desirable. However, while desirable, some goals may not be realistic and consequently provide little practical guidance for shaping the undergraduate education process. The challenge in developing realistic education outcome goals has become increasingly difficult as the body of knowledge required to be conversant, much less master, a field has grown at an increasing rate over the past century.2 To illustrate, the fields of geotechnical engineering, electrical engineering, environmental engineering, and biological engineering, to name a few, were all created in the past 90 years. In addition to new fields of endeavor, the introduction of technology, especially the personal computer, has greatly expanded the opportunities for exploration, testing, and publishing in all fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). These achievements are a great boon for humankind, but a tremendous challenge for educators as they prepare students to join, midstream, the rapid growth in STEM knowledge. This growth in knowledge has not gone unnoticed by engineering educators. One option to deal with this increase is to lengthen the undergraduate engineering experience, but these attempts have thus far not achieved any remarkable success. One of the most in-depth initiatives has been undertaken by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in defining a “Body of

Kowalski, E., & Manous, J. (2006, June), Cognitive Learning In Introductory College Science Education Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--482

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