June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
12.604.1 - 12.604.8
Enabling the U.S. Engineering Workforce for Technological Innovation: The Value of Cohort Learning
This is the second of four invited papers prepared for a special panel session of the National Collaborative Task Force on Engineering Graduate Education Reform to enable a strong U.S. engineering workforce for competitiveness and national security. There has been a significant increase in educational opportunities for the working professional, as employees and their companies have recognized the criticality of continuous learning to sustaining economic growth and prosperity in a highly competitive global economy. To meet the needs of a demanding and highly diverse constituency, educators have experimented with a wide range of program formats, modalities, and pedagogy in an effort to insure a high quality learning experience in the face of significant career obligations. This paper focuses on the benefits of employing a cohort-based learning model for practicing engineers and all professionals who wish to develop their technical and innovative skills. It will highlight the experiences of two graduate programs that are structured around a cohort model but have adopted different delivery strategies, to provide an illustration of how institutions can tailor the cohort model to meet the needs of its key stakeholders.
Unlike undergraduate education which emphasizes knowledge transfer from teacher to student in preparation for entry into a profession, graduate education for experienced professionals must leverage students as valuable sources of knowledge and wisdom if these programs are to realize their full potential. The mere presence of experienced professionals in the classroom is no guarantee of a high quality interactive learning environment; instead, strategies and practices must by put in place to create an environment that fosters collaborative knowledge sharing. The use of cohort groups is one such strategy.
A “cohort” has been defined as a group of students who enroll at the same time and take courses at the same time for the duration of their educational tenure . Beyond the structural implications of this definition, Drago-Severson  refers to a cohort as a “tight-knit, reliable, common-purpose group.” A cohort can also be thought of as a simple form of a “learning community,” a programmatic effort to create an academic and social community for students and instructors [3,4]. Learning communities and, by extension, cohorts aspire to provide an interactive and interdisciplinary environment to help students think differently and in more complex ways by providing exposure to diverse viewpoints and experiences . In short, learning communities and cohorts are intended to promote collaborative learning, critical reflection, and knowledge creation for a higher quality educational experience.
Many benefits have been ascribed to the use of cohort groups (or learning communities) in academia. High levels of collaborative knowledge sharing critical to innovation have been shown to correlate strongly with the existence of social networks, which is a common attribute of cohort groups [6,7]. Students in learning communities were found to generate more ideas and to think in
Schuver, M., & Smith, M., & Dunlap, D., & Keating, D., & Stanford, T., & Tidwell, J. (2007, June), Enabling The U.S. Engineering Work Force For Technological Innovation: The Role Of Interactive Learning Among Working Professionals Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/1649
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