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Development of the Engineering Learning Classroom Observation Tool (ELCOT)

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Instrument Development

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Timeri K. Tolnay Colorado School of Mines

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Timeri joined Mines in November of 2015 to support the growth and Development of the Trefny Innovative Instruction (I²) Center, and to bring her extensive background in instructional coaching to the college level. Prior to joining Mines, Timeri worked for a nationally recognized online Learning and Assessment System called ShowEvidence where she supported educational institutions in transferring their teaching, learning, and assessment practices online to create greater coherence institutionally. Before that Timeri co-founded, built, and sold a curriculum and professional development company called Inquiry By Design that promotes best literacy instruction nationwide. Timeri recently coauthored “Bringing Teacher Learning to Life: Courageous Teaching Using Peer Learning Labs to Elevate Efficacy” published by the Public Education and Business Coalition in December, 2015.

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Sam Spiegel Colorado School of Mines

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Dr. Spiegel is the Director of the Trefny Innovative Instruction Center at the Colorado School of Mines. He previously served as Chair of the Disciplinary Literacy in Science Team at the Institute for Learning (IFL) and Associate Director of Outreach and Development for the Swanson School of Engineering's Engineering Education Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to joining the University of Pittsburgh, he was a science educator at Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS). Dr. Spiegel also served as Director of Research & Development for a multimedia development company and as founding Director of the Center for Integrating Research & Learning (CIRL) at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Florida State University. Under Dr. Spiegel's leadership, the CIRL matured into a thriving Center recognized as one of the leading National Science Foundation Laboratories for activities to promote science, mathematics, and technology (STEM) education. While at Florida State University, Dr. Spiegel also directed an award winning teacher enhancement program for middle grades science teachers, entitled Science For Early Adolescence Teachers (Science FEAT).

His extensive background in science education includes experiences as both a middle school and high school science teacher, teaching science at elementary through graduate level, developing formative assessment instruments, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in science and science education, working with high-risk youth in alternative education centers, working in science museums, designing and facilitating online courses, multimedia curriculum development, and leading and researching professional learning for educators. The Association for the Education of Teachers of Science (AETS) honored Dr. Spiegel for his efforts in teacher education with the Innovation in Teaching Science Teachers award (1997).

Dr. Spiegel's current efforts focus on educational reform and in the innovation of teaching and learning resources and practices.

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Jennifer Zoltners Sherer University of Pittsburgh

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Jennifer Zoltners Sherer is a Research Associate at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research & Development Center. Her work focuses on developmental evaluation, initiation and development of networked improvement communities (NIC), and improving STEM teaching and learning. Her research interests include distributed leadership, organizational change, and improving teaching and learning through tool design and implementation, professional development, reform initiatives, and curriculum. Prior to receiving her Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University, she was a teacher in Oregon.

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Tools for collecting data about classroom teaching and learning can provide powerful avenues for motivating teaching improvement at the classroom level. Many classroom observation data collection tools and protocols are used in STEM institutions, each developed by a particular group or discipline, for a discrete purpose. For instance, the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS) (Smith, Jones, Gilbert, & Wieman, 2013) focuses on helping observers characterize classroom activity, and The Laboratory Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (Velasco et al., 2016) was designed to be able to characterize the instructional styles of TAs in laboratory settings. Our institution is undergoing a transformation process, moving faculty away from “covering content” to becoming designers of learning opportunities. The intent of this shift is to focus more on student learning and engagement through active learning and productive academic discourse. The existing classroom observation tools did not provide the sensitivity we were seeking to monitor changes in practice and to mark the types of interactions we are promoting. Based on the research of Chi (2009), Prince (2004), Resnick & Hall (2000) and others, we adapted these protocols to develop a new one to track levels of classroom activity and student discourse. We are calling this the ENGINEERING LEARNING Classroom Observation Tool (ELCOT).

This paper describes our process and rationale for evolving Weiman’s COPUS protocol using an adaptation of Chi’s ICAP categories and research on productive academic talk. We provide insights and rationale for the use of the online tool Generalized Observation and Reflection Platform (GORP) from UC Davis so that classroom observations can be conducted online and the data more easily aggregated and shared. ELCOT focuses on the patterns of discourse across the class and levels of cognitive engagement by students. Observers record classroom activity in two-minute intervals, allowing for interaction analysis combined with a notation of levels of cognitive engagement. We share an overview of the evolution of ELCOT and plans for expanding its use.

We describe our efforts to use the ELCOT to conduct a group of classroom observations (~50 STEM courses), both before and after most of these faculty members participate in an intensive summer course focused on innovating pedagogy. We report the results of our classroom observations, both before and after the summer course, and share methods for using the observation data to continue to motivate instructional innovations on campus.

This is a work in progress, as we still need to complete reliability and validity studies, but we are enthusiastic about ELCOT’s ability to discern gradations of active learning and productive academic talk on campus that lead to increased student achievement.

Tolnay, T. K., & Spiegel, S., & Sherer, J. Z. (2017, June), Development of the Engineering Learning Classroom Observation Tool (ELCOT) Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28176

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