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Effects Of Active Learning On Student Performance And Retention

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Student Recruitment and Retention

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.473.1 - 13.473.8



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Paper Authors


Lisa Bullard North Carolina State University

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Lisa G. Bullard is a Teaching Associate Professor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University. She received her BS in ChE from NC State and her Ph.D. in ChE from Carnegie Mellon, and she served in engineering and management positions within Eastman Chemical Co. from 1991-2000.

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Richard Felder North Carolina State University

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Richard M. Felder is the Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University. He received his BS in ChE from the City College of New York and his Ph.D. in ChE from Princeton. He is coauthor of Elementary Principles of Chemical Processes and numerous articles in science and engineering education and chemical process engineering, and he co-directs the ASEE National Effective Teaching Institute (NETI).

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Dianne Raubenheimer North Carolina State University

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C. Dianne Raubenheimer is the Director of Assessment in the College of Engineering at NCSU. She received BSc, MSc and MEd degrees from the University of Natal, South Africa and a PhD from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. Her background is in science teacher preparation, curriculum development and evaluation. She teaches as an adjunct in the department of Adult and Higher Education at NCSU.

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



During a five-year period from 2002 through 2006, parallel sections of the introductory sophomore chemical engineering course (“Chemical Process Principles”) were taught by different instructors in the same or adjacent time slots, so that both sections could be given the same midterm examinations. It usually happened that one section was taught in a traditional lecture-based format and the other was taught using extensive active learning, with group activities in every class session. The mode of instruction made relatively little difference to students with high first-year grade-point averages, but low-GPA students in the active classes consistently outperformed traditionally-taught low-GPA students on common exams and homework assignments and were also more likely to drop out of chemical engineering after the course. This paper summarizes the results and discusses their implications for instruction in engineering gateway courses.


High rates of student attrition have been a source of concern among engineering educators for many decades. Efforts to reduce attrition have focused primarily on the first year of the engineering curriculum, with various measures being taken to improve instruction in the basic science and mathematics courses and to make the freshman engineering course a more instructive and exciting experience than it has traditionally been. Another serious source of attrition is the first course in the engineering major—the statics course in civil and mechanical engineering, the circuits course in electrical engineering, and the stoichiometry (material and energy balances) course in chemical engineering. Failure rates of 50% and higher are not uncommon, and many students who drop out of engineering do so as a consequence of their experiences in these courses.

This is not to say that the goal should be to eliminate attrition from engineering curricula. Many students who matriculate in engineering do so because of the promise of high starting salaries or family pressures or simply having done well in high school science and math, and not because of a particular interest in or aptitude for engineering. Not everyone would be happy in an engineering career, and the best thing that could happen to some students is to drop out of engineering and switch to a curriculum that would lead to more enjoyable and fulfilling careers. The goal for the first engineering course should be to provide a realistic and well-taught introduction to the discipline, so that all students with the ability and interest needed to do well as engineers have an experience that motivates them to remain in engineering.

Most chemical engineering curricula begin with a second-year course on material and energy balances on chemical processes, historically designated the “stoichiometry course.” The course is generally feared by students, with their descriptions of it invariably including the term “weed-out.” Test grades tend to be low, failure rates are high, and student course ratings are

Bullard, L., & Felder, R., & Raubenheimer, D. (2008, June), Effects Of Active Learning On Student Performance And Retention Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3344

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