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Do's And Don'ts Of Introducing Active Learning Techniques

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.237.1 - 5.237.6



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Kevin M. Nickels

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

Session 2793

Do’s and Don’ts of Introducing Active Learning Techniques

Kevin Nickels Trinity University


Each year at ASEE we hear of all sorts of wonderful active learning techniques that engineering educators are using to involve their students in the classroom. This paper relates the experiences of one new engineering educator in trying out some active learning techniques in his classroom. As with other teaching techniques, instructors must carefully evaluate active learning tech- niques not only for pedagogic soundness but also for fit with their style. A technique that works well for others will do you no good if it doesn’t mesh well with your course organization and plans. This paper discusses some examples of techniques that fit well with the author’s style, some that have been tried and discontinued, and a few that the author has not even attempted. Most new engineering educators pay much attention to student feedback, particularly informal feedback, about our use of new teaching techniques. However, there are many new confounding variables in these evaluations to deal with. Often, the course that we are trying to introduce active learning into is new to us, or we are extensively revamping the organization. We may be teaching a style of student that we have little experience with. We may even be learning new material as we are teaching it. It is often hard to separate out what works from what doesn’t work based on formal feedback. This paper includes some ideas on evaluation of efficacy of new teaching techniques, and some tips on making this evaluation easier. This paper discusses personal experiences and gives a practical first person perspective. It investigates the implementation aspects of some of the more abstract pedagogical techniques that new educators find so intriguing and inspiring.

1. Introduction

From Carl Smith’s semester-long group projects8 to Angelo and Cross’ “one-minute quizzes,”1 the annual meeting of the American Society for Engineering Education brings many tried-and-true techniques to engineering educators. Just as our students usually see only the polished end result of our problem solving in class, engineering educators usually only see successful experiments in active learning. I joined the professoriate in Fall 1998: as this is being written, I have been teaching for almost three semesters as an assistant professor. As a new engineering educator, I am extremely interested not only in how well these techniques work, but also in the little implementation details that may or may not keep me from implementing them in my classroom. Unfortunately, all too often an idea that sounded interesting and immediately applicable during the summer falls to the wayside due to a combination of content tyranny and administrative overhead during the semester. In the following pages, I will describe a few case-studies of implementations for active-learning techniques in my courses. The relevant courses are Digital Logic Design, an introductory course in

Nickels, K. M. (2000, June), Do's And Don'ts Of Introducing Active Learning Techniques Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8316

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