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Comparison Of Student Learning In Challenge Based And Traditional Instruction In Biotransport Engineering Classrooms

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Assessment and Evaluation in Engineering Education II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.384.1 - 12.384.8



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Paper Authors


Stephanie Rivale University of Texas-Austin

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Stephanie Rivale is a doctoral student in the Science and Mathematics Education Department at the University of Texas at Austin. She received her BS in Chemical Engineering at the University of Rochester and her MS in Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her main research interests are improving access and equity for women and students of color in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology and evaluating and improving student learning in college engineering classrooms in cooperation with the VaNTH Engineering Research Center in Bioengineering Educational Technologies.

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Taylor Martin University of Texas-Austin

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Dr. Taylor Martin is assistant professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin. Her primary research interest is how people learn content in complex domains from active participation, both physical and social. She is cooperating with local elementary schools to examine how hands-on activities impact mathematics learning and investigating the development of adaptive expertise through cooperation with the VaNTH Engineering Research Center in Bioengineering Educational Technologies. Her education was at Dartmouth, Vanderbilt and Stanford Universities.

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K. Diller University of Texas-Austin

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

Comparison of Student Learning in Challenge-based and Traditional Instruction in Biotransport Engineering Classrooms


This paper compares student learning in challenge-based and traditional engineering classrooms from the perspective of adaptive expertise. Collaborating learning scientists and biomedical engineers designed and implemented a challenge-based method of instruction that followed learning principles presented in the National Research Council report “How People Learn” (HPL). The study was conducted in four different classrooms at three different Research I institutions (2 HPL and 2 traditional classrooms). A pre- and posttest measured knowledge acquisition in the domain and development of innovative problem-solving abilities. HPL and traditional students’ test scores were compared. Results show that HPL and traditional students made equivalent knowledge gains, but that HPL students demonstrated significantly greater improvement in innovative thinking abilities. We discuss these results in terms of their implications for improving undergraduate engineering education.

Objectives and Theoretical Framework

Although the engineering knowledge base has advanced immensely over the past century, the way engineering is taught in college classrooms has changed very little. Most core engineering classes are still taught in the traditional lecture style classroom with weekly problem sets and periodic in class quizzes and exams. Students who have learned to be successful in the traditional style are able to master the core content knowledge during the given course. The weaknesses of the traditional model are poor retention, lack of connectedness of the knowledge, and lack of the ability to apply this knowledge to new contexts. Hatano and Inagaki classify this type of inflexible and unconnected mastery as routine expertise.5 They classify its opposite as adaptive expertise (AE): a more globally organized, connected, and flexible knowledge base.

The challenge-based method studied here follows the How People Learn (HPL) framework.2 This framework proposes that learning environments should be knowledge centered, community centered, assessment centered and learner centered. Research has shown that the HPL method shows advantages in the development of AE.4,9,11 In experimental studies in biomechanics and bioengineering ethics, HPL students developed more adaptive expert-like behavior along with equivalent levels of knowledge than students taught with traditional pedagogical methods.6,7,8,12 While these are promising results, these studies covered only one or two instructional modules. Based on these studies, a more robust investigation of the relative outcomes of HPL and traditional instruction is needed. In this paper, we report on a study that compared the two methods over an entire course in biotransport as taught at multiple institutions via HPL and traditional formats.



A total of 136 students consented to participate in the study, of which 106 completed both the pre- and posttests (54 in the HPL condition and 52 in the traditional condition). Most of the students were

Rivale, S., & Martin, T., & Diller, K. (2007, June), Comparison Of Student Learning In Challenge Based And Traditional Instruction In Biotransport Engineering Classrooms Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1488

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