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Collaborative Project-based Learning Approach to the Enculturation of Senior Engineering Students into the Professional Engineering Practice of Teamwork

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Perceptions, Reflections, Collaborations, and Student Support in Chemical Engineering

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Yu Xia Pennsylvania State University

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Yu Xia is a doctoral candidate in Learning, Design, and Technology program in College of Education and research assistant in Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education in College of Engineering at Penn State. She is currently doing research of collaborative learning in various learning contexts.

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Stephanie Cutler Pennsylvania State University

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Stephanie Cutler has a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. Her dissertation explored faculty adoption of research-based instructional strategies in the statics classroom. Currently, Dr. Cutler works as an assessment and instructional support specialist with the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State. She aids in the educational assessment of faculty-led projects while also supporting instructors to improve their teaching in the classroom. Previously, Dr. Cutler worked as the research specialist with the Rothwell Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence Worldwide Campus (CTLE - W) for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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Dawn McFadden Pennsylvania State University

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Since 2015, Dawn McFadden has been an Assistant Teaching Professor at The Pennsylvania State University. Her primary focus is the Chemical Engineering Capstone Design course and Chemical Process Safety and Control. She brings her over 20 years of experience in industry to the classroom to help the students connect their learning with real world application. While the focus of her career was in Research and Development (including several process patents), it also included assignments in production and capital deployment.

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Working in teams is a vital component within the chemical engineering profession (Ohland, Giurintano, Novoselich, Brackin, & Sangelkar, 2015). For senior chemical engineering students, the capstone design course provides an opportunity for students to work in teams to develop their teamwork skills in preparation for their future career. To better emphasize that necessary professional skills, especially teamwork, the [university’s] Chemical Engineering capstone design course was redesigned for the 2017-2018 academic year. This paper reports on the mixed methods evaluation to investigate student perceptions on their teamwork experiences during capstone design yielding insights to further scaffold students in the future. To examine student perceptions on teamwork, we conducted a questionnaire with both closed- and open-ended items. Initial findings indicate that students believed working on a team in capstone design was a valuable experience with a high average rating of 4.20 out of 5. This high rating of importance was largely consistent across students, even for students who reported “horrible” team experiences through the open-response items. Students also believed teamwork is the most relevant skill to their future work among the six skills (writing, using modeling software, problem solving, designing equipment, economic evaluation), with a high average of 4.52 out of 5, consistent with the result that 44% of the open responses talked about the importance of teamwork to their future work. The qualitative, open-coding analysis into the teamwork yielded varied aspects of teamwork that students highlighted in their capstone projects. These aspects can be grouped into three themes: Theme 1: Team Coordination, including categories of 1) communication, 2) individual responsibility, 3) improving efficiency, and 4) strengths and weaknesses of different team members; Theme 2: Simulation to Real World, including categories of 5) the value of different ideas or perspectives, 6) relevance to real-world project or work, 7) supporting each other; Theme 3 Necessity; Theme 4 Challenge. While the first three themes have specific indicators, the Challenge includes all the reported difficulties, challenges, situations that engendered negative experience. These codes then allow us to see conflicting perspectives within the different themes. Specifically, while students perceived communication to be critical to efficient and productive collaborative processes, some reported challenges of effectively executing these skills. Also, while some embraced the idea of having people with different perspectives, others showed negative feelings towards having people they don’t know or who they perceive as different, such as requesting to pick their own teammates. More importantly, a critical element of collaboration, conflict resolution strategies (Borrego, Karlin, McNair, & Beddoes, 2013; Oladiran, Uziak, Eisenberg, & Scheffer, 2011), were not discussed by students and noticeably absent from their discussion of teamwork and the skills needed to be successful on teams. Our findings can help to inform the design of capstone design courses to support collaborative learning for senior chemical engineering students. A regular evaluation system should be built in the formative assessment to hold individual members accountable for their responsibilities (Ohland et al., 2012). Instructors should also explicitly discuss conflict resolution pronounced and provide tips on repair strategies for when disagreements or problems arise.

Xia, Y., & Cutler, S., & McFadden, D. (2020, June), Collaborative Project-based Learning Approach to the Enculturation of Senior Engineering Students into the Professional Engineering Practice of Teamwork Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34299

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