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CONSIDER: A Novel Approach to Conflict-Driven Collaborative Learning in Engineering Courses

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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

Technology-Related Educational Research

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Swaroop Joshi Ohio State University Orcid 16x16

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Swaroop Joshi is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science and Engineering at The Ohio State University. His interests include Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, Game-based learning, the use of technology in the classroom as well as a range of problems in software engineering.

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Neelam Soundarajan Ohio State University

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Dr. Neelam Soundarajan is an Associate Professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Ohio State University. His interests include software engineering as well as innovative approaches to engineering education.
This will be a joint paper with my PhD student, Swaroop Joshi. He will be the first author, I will be the second author.

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Over the years, work by many researchers, starting with Piaget's classic work on children's learning, has shown that when learners engage in critical discussions with peers who have ideas that con.ict with their own, that can help all learners in the discussion to develop deep conceptual understanding [1,2,3]. The discussion should not involve a teacher since if it did, given the authority of the teacher, the learners will simply accept the teacher's position without careful analysis.

Thus the primary motivation for our work is the idea that socio- cognitive conflict among a small group of students arising from their different conceptualizations of the underlying ideas of a topic or problem and the attempt to resolve that conflict via careful discussion in the group can help all students in the group develop deep conceptual understanding. While collaborative learning in many different forms has been a central component of engineering education research, e.g., [4, 5], much of that work has focused on ensuring, e.g., in capstone design courses, effective team work, communication skills, etc. By contrast, our focus is on exploiting a specific form of collaborative learning, i.e., small group discussions as described above, to enable individual students develop deep conceptual understanding.


Many engineering (more generally, STEM) faculty acknowledge the importance of discussions among students. But they tend to be reluctant to introduce such activities in their classes due to concerns about potential negative impact on topic coverage. Also, engineering class sizes tend to be large, making such discussions impractical. Further, while some students participate effectively in discussions, many tend to be silent observers. Finally, it is not clear how to base class discussions on Piaget-type socio-cognitive conflict or prevent it from veering off into tangential issues.

CONSIDER (an acronym for conflicting student ideas discussed, evaluated and resolved) is an online system and approach designed to address these problems. The approach works as follows. Following usual lectures on a given topic, the instructor creates a two-part assignment, call it As. The first part of As, call it Ic for initial component, will be a central, conceptual question that is, ideally, a multiple-choice question with distractors corresponding to common misconceptions about the topic; the second part, Pr is an in-depth question, an extension of Ic, possibly including a problem-solving component. The instructor posts Ic on the CONSIDER web app (details of the app in the full paper) and each student is required to, *individually*, submit his/her answer to Ic within 24 hours. The system, possibly with help from the instructor, then groups the students into groups of 4--5 each with each group containing students who choose different answers for Ic.

The students in each group will then engage in a series of rounds, R1, R2, R3,..., of discussion, each lasting 24 hours, the goal being to help each student arrive at a good answer to the assignment. Suppose group G has four students, S1, S2, S3, S4. Note that the students in G will not know the identities of the others in G with the system simply referring to them as S1 etc. When S1 logs in for, say, round R3, she will see the posts made by all four students in R2. In her post for R3, S1 will have to indicate (by clicking a red/green/yellow button on the app) whether she agrees with, disagrees with, or is neutral/ unclear about the posts made by each of S1, ..., S4 in R2 along with an explanation (especially if she disagrees); and also include her current approach to the problem. Note that S1 has to indicate, in R3, whether she agrees/disagrees with her own post from R2; the point is that, she may have found the R2 post from, say, S4 so convincing that she no longer agrees with what she said in R2! Indeed, this is the point of peer discussion based on different conceptualizations of a problem. At the end of, say, R5 --this will be decided by the instructor based on the topic-- each student will individually, submit his/her final answer to the assignment, along with a brief summary of the discussion in his/her group. S1's grade for the assignment will depend only on the correctness of her final answer and the quality of her summary; so she will not have to worry about losing points for switching from the wrong to the correct answer.


We have implemented a web app, CONSIDER, based on the above approach. We used it in a senior/graduate level Computer Sc. & Eng. course on Programming Languages. An assignment, based on concepts related to Lisp, an unusual but foundational language, and its interpreter, was assigned and the effectiveness assessed. We will report full results in the paper but two points are worth noting here. A survey, at the end of the course, showed that most of the students felt that the approach helped improve their understanding of the topic (from an average of 3.5 before the CONSIDER-based discussion to 4.6 after, on a 5.0 scale). But the power of the approach was truly revealed by one of the students when he wrote, in his third round post, responding to the second round post of another student, "aha, I see what you mean!" and proceeded to disagree with his own second round post! That was the moment this student suddenly saw the right answer to the assignment and developed the deep conceptual understanding that we wish for!


[1] J Piaget. The early growth of logic in the child. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964. [2] W Doise and G Mugny. The social development of the intellect. Oxford: Pergamon, 1984. [3] C Howe and A Tolmie. Productive interaction in the context of computer-supported collaborative learning in science. In Learning with computers, pages 24--46. Routledge, 1999. [4] D Johnson and R Johnson. Learning together and alone. Allyn, 1999. [5] L Michaelsen, M Sweet. The essential elements of team based learning. In New directions for teaching & learning, #116, pp. 7-27, 2008

Joshi, S., & Soundarajan, N. (2016, June), CONSIDER: A Novel Approach to Conflict-Driven Collaborative Learning in Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26579

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