June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
26.755.1 - 26.755.23
Facilitating the Transition of a Traditional Engineering Course to a Structured, Active, In-Class Learning Environment as a Teaching AssistantActive learning, including problem-based learning,1,2 assisted discovery learning,3 cooperativelearning,4,5 interactive engagement,6 and small-group learning,7 has been shown to improvestudents’ skills, problem-solving abilities, favorable attitudes towards learning, and performanceand achievement. Despite the evidence, many college engineering courses uphold the status-quolecture-only format because changing the structure of a course takes considerable time, planning,and foresight. Teaching assistants can be valuable resources in facilitating the transition of atraditional engineering course to include active learning techniques. In this paper, we willdiscuss tricks of the trade in how teaching assistants can be involved in the restructuring process.Specifically, we will address 1) defining and communicating course goals, 2) considering howdifferent active learning methods will best support the goals, 3) designing activities, 4)facilitating positive student group dynamics, and 5) providing feedback. These topics werepresented in a Structured, Active, In-Class Learning (SAIL) training course for teachingassistants, offered by the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, and applied to a recentrestructuring of an Introduction to Biomechanics class. Examples from this Biomechanicscourse will be provided.Before restructuring a course, the goals must be clearly defined by the instructor andcommunicated to the teaching assistant. These broad course goals will lead to more specificassignment goals. For example, in an Introduction to Biomechanics course, the instructor had 4specific goals in addition to simply having students “learn the material”: build students’ skills inestimation, simplification, and design, and help them develop an intuitive sense of the physicalphenomena in biomechanics. These goals could be translated into structured, in-class activities.Specifically, small-group work was chosen for this application because it allows students tosolve more challenging problems and develop critical thinking skills by bringing together diverseideas and experiences. With these goals and methods in mind, the teaching assistant can begindesigning in-class activities. Many questions must be considered when designing a newassignment. Examples of these questions include How will students prepare for the in-class work? Is the complexity appropriate for this type of structure? What are the logistics involved in setting up and coordinating this activity?After designing a group activity, the next challenge is successful implementation. Group work isoften a component of active learning, but dysfunctional groups can impair the learning process.During in-class activities, the teaching assistant can circulate the classroom to interact with eachgroup and provide support as needed. Special attention should be given to groups with membersworking independently instead of together, to groups that are stuck, to groups with an especiallydominant or passive member, and to groups that are “done” much earlier than others. Finally, amethod should be chosen to provide feedback to the students on the activities. Examples includegrading schemes or rubrics, check for completion, individual vs. group grades, quizzes, or nogrades. Emphasis should be placed on aligning feedback with the course and assignment goals.Training teaching assistants specifically for active-learning based classes will aid in their utilityin restructuring the course and facilitating activities.References1. Dochy, F. (2003). Effects of problem-based learning: a meta-analysis. Learning andInstruction, 13(5), 533-568.2. Gijbels, D., Dochy, F., Van den Bossche, P., & Segers, M. (2005). Effects of problem-basedlearning: A meta-analysis from the angle of assessment. Review of Educational Research, 75(1),27-61.3. Alfieri, L., Brooks, P. J., Aldrich, N. J., & Tenenbaum, H. R. (2011). Does discovery-basedinstruction enhance learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(1), 1-18.4. Bowen, C. W. (2000). A quantitative literature review of cooperative learning effects on highschool and college chemistry achievement. Journal of Chemical Education, 77(1), 116.5. Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (1998). Cooperative learning returns tocollege - What evidence is there that it works? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning,30(4), 26-35.6. Hake, R. R. (1998). Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal ofPhysics, 66(1), 64.7. Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of small-group learning onundergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Reviewof Educational Research, 69(1), 21-51.
Rooney, S. I., & McGurk, J. S., & Elliott, E. R., & Williams, U. J., & Dourte Segan, L. (2015, June), Facilitating the Transition of a Traditional Engineering Course to a Structured, Active, In-class Learning Environment as a Teaching Assistant Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24092
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