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Entering the First Year of a Multidisciplinary, Hands-on, Competency-based Learning Experience: Hopes and Concerns of Students, Parents, and Faculty

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

First-year Programs Division Technical Session 11: Curricular and Program Innovations

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.677.1 - 26.677.35



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Paper Authors


Marisa Exter Purdue University

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Marisa Exter is an Assistant Professor of Learning Design and Technology in the College of Education at Purdue University. Dr. Exter’s research aims to provide recommendations to improve or enhance university-level design and technology programs (such as Instructional Design, Computer Science, and Engineering). Some of her previous research has focused on software designers’ formal and non-formal educational experiences and use of precedent materials, and experienced instructional designers’ beliefs about design character. These studies have highlighted the importance of cross-disciplinary skills and student engagement in large-scale, real-world projects.

Dr. Exter currently leads an effort to evaluate a new multidisciplinary degree program which provides both liberal arts and technical content through competency-based experiential learning.

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Iryna Ashby Purdue University

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Iryna Ashby is a Ph.D student in the Learning Design and Technology Program at Purdue University with the research interests focused on program evaluation. She is also part of the program evaluation team for the Purdue Polytechnic Institute – a new initiate at Purdue College of Technology aimed to redesign undergraduate student experiences through offering a combination of deep liberal arts experiences with student-driven, hands-on project-based learning.

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Mark Shaurette Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Mark Shaurette has a MS in Civil Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a PhD in Technology from Purdue University. He is currently an associate professor at Purdue University, was a 2012 Fulbright Scholar in Ireland, and has work experience that includes 30+ years of senior construction management practice as well as work as a research engineer for the National Association of Home Builders Research Foundation. He is active in research, education, and community outreach in the areas of building retrofit for energy conservation, sustainable construction practices, management of the demolition process, material reuse and recycling, as well as instructional design in technology education.

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Entering the First Year of a Multi-disciplinary, Hands-on, Competency-Based Learning Experience: Hopes and concerns of students, parents and facultyA multi-disciplinary team of 15 faculty members were charged with developing a Polytechnicexperience being developed at a large, Midwestern, land-grant, R1 university, which waslaunched in Fall, 2014. The program was designed to meet the following values: viewing thestudent as a whole person; welcoming diversity of thinking, knowing, and learning; openness,collaboration, and cooperation; access to all students; student autonomy in learning; and risktaking (personal communication, 2014). They took into account the particular challenges ofworking with “Millennial” students, who are often characterized as learners that prefergroup/collaborative activity; are fascinated by new technologies; prefer experiential activities;prefer structured coursework; and may not be well prepared by formal schooling for self-guidedcomplex learning or tackling problems without a clear “right” answer (Levine & Dean, 2012;Oblinger, 2003; McGlynn, 2008; Wilson, 2004). Parents are also increasingly involved instudents’ college choice (Bergerson, 2009) and college lives (Daniel, Evans & Scott, 2001; Wolf,Sax & Harper, 2009), which can be associated with positive outcomes including collegepersistence, academic achievement, and emotional well-being (Wolf, Sax & Harper, 2009).The first semester experience of the Polytechnic Institute, was built around two majorcomponents. A Seminar course was designed and taught by faculty from across the College ofTechnology and the College of Liberal Arts. This course, which met for 10 hours per week,aimed to develop creativity, empathy, critical thinking, and written, oral, visual and auditorycommunication skills through use of a variety of instructional methods. A Studio course, co-taught by a professor from the College of Technology and a professor from Theatre specializingin scenery technology and engineering, was intended to foster design thinking, critical thinking,and domain-specific skills through engagement with a series of real-world, ill-structuredproblems. Students were given the opportunity to gain other skills through traditional courses,close work with mentors from their desired discipline, or self-study. Students were awardedbadges upon mastery of specific competencies, rather than grades.The team was aware that adapting Signature Pedagogies (Shulman, 2005), such as the seminarand studio models, from other fields would require that both faculty and students becomeaccustomed to a new way of teaching and learning. They were also aware that there were trade-offs to be made between adding significant Liberal Arts content and cross-disciplinaryexperiences, and maintaining the strengths of the traditional programs in the College ofTechnology, specifically the development of domain-specific competencies.Initial analysis indicates that students and parents were excited about the hands-on, student-centered learning approach, but were concerned about employability, the ability to potentiallytransfer back to traditional programs, and whether they would gain the same discipline-specificskills and knowledge as their peers in the traditional Technology programs. The use of badgesinstead of grades caused further confusion and distress among students in the first few weeks ofthe program. Faculty were aware of these concerns, and attempted to ameliorate them throughtransparency, by talking about their own plans and perceptions, and by providing additionalstructure.This paper will further examine the hopes and concerns stressed by students and parents duringthe first weeks of the Polytechnic Institute, as well as reactions from faculty. Data sourcesinclude student and parent surveys conducted at the beginning of the semester, a student surveyconducted at 5 weeks into the semester, student interviews, faculty interviews, in-classobservations, and notes from weekly faculty reflection sessions. Descriptive statistics will beused to summarize closed-ended survey data. Qualitative data from interviews and open-endedsurvey items will be analyzed using the constant comparative method for naturalistic inquiry(Lincoln & Guba 1984), to discover themes related to hopes and concerns within and acrossstakeholder groups. Classroom observations will inform our understanding of the other datasources.This presentation may be of interest to those attempting to develop similar new initiatives orthose considering expanding or redesigning the current ones to provide a more well-roundedexperience to students. Although students may be excited by new pedagogies or learningenvironments, students and parents alike will rightfully have concerns about employability,transfer both within the university and to other institutions, and preparation for the workplace.Understanding these concerns can be important both to the design of learning experiences, and inhow they are “sold” to stakeholder groups. Works CitedBergerson, A. A. (2009). Special Issue: College Choice and Access to College: Moving Policy, Research, and Practice to the 21st Century. ASHE Higher Education Report, 35(4), 1- 141.Daniel, B. V., Evans, S. G., & Scott, B. R. (2001). Understanding family involvement in the college experience today. New directions for student services, 94, 3-13.Levine, A., & Dean, D. R. (2012). Generation on a tightrope: A portrait of today's college student (Vol. 3). John Wiley & Sons.Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1984). Processing the Naturalistically Obtained Data. In Naturalistic Inquiry (pp. 256–332). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.McGlynn, A. P. (2008). Millennials in college: How do we motivate them? Education Digest, 73(6), 19-22.Oblinger, D. (2003). Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials: Understanding the new students. Educause Review, 50 (4), 37-47.Shulman, L. S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus,134(3), 52-59.Wilson, M. E. (2004). Teaching, learning, and Millennial students. New Directions for Student Sevices. 106, 59-71.Wolf, D., Sax, L. J., & Harper, C. E. (2009). Parental engagement and contact in the academic lives of college students. NASPA Journal, 46 (2), 325-358.

Exter, M., & Ashby, I., & Shaurette, M. (2015, June), Entering the First Year of a Multidisciplinary, Hands-on, Competency-based Learning Experience: Hopes and Concerns of Students, Parents, and Faculty Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24014

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