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Connecting for Success; The Impact of Student-to-Other Closeness on Performance in Large-Scale Engineering Classes

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 2A: Using Alternative Measurements to Look at Students and Their Success

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Mark Schar Stanford University

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The focus of Mark’s research can broadly be described as “pivot thinking,” the cognitive aptitudes and abilities that encourage innovation, and the tension between design engineering and business management cognitive styles. To encourage these thinking patterns in young engineers, Mark has developed a Scenario Based Learning curriculum that attempts to blend core engineering concepts with selected business ideas. Mark is also researches empathy and mindfulness and its impact on gender participation in engineering education. He is a Lecturer in the School of Engineering at Stanford University and teaches the course ME310x Product Management and ME305 Statistics for Design Researchers.

Mark has extensive background in consumer products management, having managed more than 50 consumer driven businesses over a 25-year career with The Procter & Gamble Company. In 2005, he joined Intuit, Inc. as Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer and initiated a number of consumer package goods marketing best practices, introduced the use of competitive response modeling and "on-the-fly" A|B testing program to qualify software improvements. Mark has a BSS from Northwestern University, an MBA from Kellogg School of Management and a PhD from Stanford University.

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Angela Harris Stanford University


Robert J. Witt University of Wisconsin - Madison

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Professor Robert Witt received his PhD in Nuclear Engineering from MIT in 1987, but has gravitated towards teaching large, introductory courses, primarily in the mechanics area (statics, dynamics, mechanics of materials). He is also the co-author of a successful finite elements textbook and occasionally teaches finite elements in addition to nuclear engineering courses.

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Robert Rice University of California - Merced


Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2011 Dr. Sheppard was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and recently served as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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This research paper explores the relationship between “student-to-other” closeness within a large-scale introductory engineering class and student performance as measured by final grade. Aron and Aron have developed the theory of self-expansion through their work on “including other in the self” (IOS) and have shown that self-expansion can have many benefits including sharing of resources and greater self confidence. We call this “closeness,” and have used Aron’s scale to measure student closeness to “others” in the engineering classroom – Professor, TA, Lab Group, Classroom and Friend. A total of 571 complete observations were obtained at three university locations among students enrolled in the local equivalent course, Introduction to Solid Mechanics or Statics. Classroom sizes varied from Large (~400 students) to Medium (125-150 students) to Small (75-90 students).

Results show that closeness plays an important role in classroom performance, particularly in combination with mechanics self-efficacy (or personal confidence in your mechanics aptitude and ability). Closeness varied significantly among “other” groups and by classroom size with closeness to Professor the lowest measure and declining pre-to-post over the academic term, in contrast to closeness to Friend being the highest measure and increased over the term. Closeness to the Teaching Assistant proved to be the single most important predictor of pre-to-post change in students’ overall feeling of closeness in the classroom. Closeness did vary by classroom size with significantly more reported closeness within the Small classroom over the Large classroom. Closeness was also generally greater among “minority” students – female, URM and First Generation College students.

Mechanics self-efficacy was a robust predictor of grade performance and showed a strong and significant correlation with closeness. Structural equation modeling shows that closeness is one of four major predictors of grade performance, along with mechanics self-efficacy, personal qualities such as URM and First Generation College status and class size. Finally, empathy levels were a meaningful predictor of closeness as had been expected. Implications are discussed including suggestions for ways to improve closeness within engineering classes and future research opportunities.

Schar, M., & Harris, A., & Witt, R. J., & Rice, R., & Sheppard, S. (2016, June), Connecting for Success; The Impact of Student-to-Other Closeness on Performance in Large-Scale Engineering Classes Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26568

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