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Deepening Conceptual Understanding in an Introductory Material Science Course Through Active learning Strategies

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Materials Science Education for the Future

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.364.1 - 23.364.21



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Paper Authors

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Todd C. Hufnagel Johns Hopkins University


Michael J. Reese Jr. Johns Hopkins University

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Michael Reese is the Associate Director at the Johns Hopkins Center for Educational Resources. Reese previously worked as an Educational Technologist at Caliber Learning and Booz-Allen and Hamilton. He also consulted with the University of Maryland School of Nursing on the launch of their distance education program. He earned an M.Ed. in educational technology from the University of Virginia and a B.S. in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech, where he was named the Paul E. Torgersen Leadership Scholar.

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Flipping the Lecture: Deepening Conceptual Understanding in an Introductory Material Science CourseThis paper will report on a quasi-experimental study funded through the National ScienceFoundation to explore the impact of using Eric Mazur’s peer instruction method on studentlearning in a core materials science course at a large research-intensive university in theNortheast. Mazur’s peer instruction method requires the professor to rethink how they structuretheir course. Students complete activities before class – read articles, watch instructional videos,and/or listen to podcasts – which essentially flips the lecture freeing the instructor to engagestudents with active learning approaches during class time. In the peer instruction method, theinstructor conducts repeated concept tests during class using a think-pair-share like approach.The teacher poses a qualitative, conceptual question that students answer individually, often withan in-class voting system. The instructor then directs students to debate their answers with oneor a few classmates before choosing again. The instructor then reveals the answer discussing itin detail as dictated by the percentage of students who answered it correctly. Studies haveshown that peer instruction helps students gain a deeper conceptual understanding of coursetopics.This method was implemented in a core course on the structure of materials at a large researchuniversity. Being a gateway science course, it is important students have deep conceptualunderstanding of foundational topics before they embark on more advanced courses. Our workwas driven by the following research question. Does peer instruction help students develop adeeper conceptual understanding of topics taught in the structure of materials course? Ourhypothesis was that students taught with the peer instruction method would have a deeperconceptual understanding than those who took the course in a traditional lecture format.We used a quasi-experimental method for testing this hypothesis. The instructor taught studentsin the fall 2011 course using a traditional lecture-based approach. The instructor will useMazur’s peer instruction method for the fall 2012 course. The team will compare the method’seffectiveness across semesters. (Please note: Data will be collected in time to analyze the resultsby the December 7th deadline if the authors are invited to submit a paper).An independent assessment expert from the university’s teaching and learning center leads thedesign and implementation of the data collection. Data collection involves three steps. 1) Students will complete a concept inventory developed by the project investigator at the beginning and end of each semester. 2) Students will complete a modified Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG) survey at the beginning and end of each semester to measure the gains in students’ perceived mastery of key course topics. 3) A subset of students were invited to participate in a focus group session to discuss their opinions about the teaching approaches.Quantitative and qualitative methods will be used to compare student gains and feedbackbetween the two semesters. These results will be shared in the paper.

Hufnagel, T. C., & Reese, M. J. (2013, June), Deepening Conceptual Understanding in an Introductory Material Science Course Through Active learning Strategies Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19378

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