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Facilitating Learner Self-efficacy through Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Sustainable Systems Design

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Effects on Student Learning

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Tela Favaloro University of California, Santa Cruz

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Tela Favaloro received a B.S. degree in Physics and a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently working to further the development and dissemination of alternative energy technology; as project manager of a green building design initiative and researcher with the Center for Sustainable Engineering and Power Systems. Her background is in the development of characterization techniques and laboratory apparatus for advancement of novel electronic devices, in addition to curriculum development for inquiry-based learning and facilitation of interdisciplinary, student-led project design. She emphasizes engineering sustainable solutions from a holistic perspective, incorporating analysis of the full technological life cycle and socioeconomic impact.

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Tamara Ball University of California, Santa Cruz

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Dr. Tamara Ball is a project-scientist working with the the Sustainable Engineering and Ecological Design (SEED) collaborative at UCSC. She is the program director for Impact Designs - Engineering and Sustainability through Student Service (IDEASS) and Apprenticeships in Sustainability Science and Engineering Design (ASCEND). She is interested in understanding how extracurricular and co-curricular innovations can support meaningful campus-community connections in higher education and improve learning outcomes. Her research to date has focused on educational designs that emphasize learner initiative and agency through inquiry or problem-based learning in formal and informal learning contexts. She has published several papers on the characteristics of learning environments that support or constrain opportunities for any students (including those from non-dominant backgrounds) to participate in key science and engineering process skills such as scientific argumentation. Her work is largely informed by the principles and perspectives on human development and cognition articulated by Cultural Historical Activity Theory. Putting theory into practice, she teaches a service-learning course at UCSC wherein interdisciplinary teams of students work in an layered apprenticeship model with community mentors to design and implement sustainable solutions to water, energy, waste, transportation and social challenges using "green technology". Dr. Ball has worked as a research fellow with two NSF Centers for Learning and Teaching and most recently on several NSF projects that focus the integration of engineering and social science to support the advancement of experiential learning for sustainability in higher education.

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Zachary W Graham University of California, Santa Cruz


Michael S. Isaacson University of California, Santa Cruz

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Michael Isaacson is the Narinder Singh Kapany Professor emeritus, professor of electrical engineering, Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy and Power Systems (CenSEPS) and a member of the Sustainable Engineering and Ecological Design Program at UCSC. He is recipient of numerous awards including a Sloan Foundation Faculty Fellowship, the Burton Medal from the Microscopy Society of America, an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award, the Rank Prize in Optoelectronics and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Microscopy Society of America. He is a Fellow of the AAAS and the MSA. He has been elected to the executive board of the Engineering Research Council of the American Society of Engineering Education and is series co-editor of “Advances in Microscopy and Microanalysis” published by Cambridge University Press. He is the PI on an NSF-PIRE grant on “US-Denmark Cooperative Research and Education in Intermittency-Friendly Community-scale Renewable Energy Micro-grids”. Professor Isaacson has a B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.S. and PhD in physics from the University of Chicago. He came to UC Santa Cruz in 2003 from Cornell University where he was a professor of Applied and Engineering Physics, director of the Keck Foundation Program in Nanobiotechnology and Associate Dean of Research, Graduate Studies and Professional Education in the College of Engineering.

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An educational partnership between a minority-serving community college and a research university has been offering STEM students an eight-week summer internship in sustainable energy systems with the goal of providing students applied research experiences while strengthening community and institutional bonds. In 2015, the interns’ involvement in the successful design, development, and implementation of an innovative testbed for assessment of grid supporting “smart” technology was facilitated by early preparations for self-directed learning. Here, we provide detailed descriptions of a phased pedagogical approach that was instrumental in enabling participants from multidisciplinary and diverse backgrounds to effectively communicate, contribute, and innovate. Heavy scaffolding through a series of controlled yet experiential learning activities targeted key engineering content and process skills, while positioning learners to be efficacious during the research and development phase. Participants formed transitional development teams that restructured based on current project needs; each group member took responsibility for becoming an “expert” in self-prescribed roles: wireless communication protocol, residential electrical wiring, embedded systems design and programming, construction technique, research and characterization of “smart” loads, among others.

This paper presents evidence of a) group interaction and individual participation in practices facilitating the collaborative emergence of innovation and b) learner self-efficacy, which we postulate are correlated. Exit interviews, audio diaries, and a survey instrument assessing interactive engagement in learners were used in analyses of the learning processes and learning outcomes of this case study. Findings point to the importance of allowing participants to identify and take ownership of a discrete set of tasks while expanding skillsets and building peripheral knowledge through facilitated collaboration across domain-specific working groups. This case study culminates in a discussion of four constitutive processes of innovation: choice, challenge, accountability, and cross-disciplinary synergy, as being predictive of the learner’s ability to contribute to collaborative, group-level innovation.

Favaloro, T., & Ball, T., & Graham, Z. W., & Isaacson, M. S. (2016, June), Facilitating Learner Self-efficacy through Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Sustainable Systems Design Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26879

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