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First-Year Engineering Learning Space: Enhancing the Student Experience

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

FPD 3: Research on First-year Programs and Students, Part I

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.719.1 - 22.719.18



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Paper Authors


Diana Quinn University of South Australia

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Diana is a medical scientist who has worked academic development (online teaching and learning) since 2000. In 2006 Diana commenced working with the first year engineering team at a suburban university campus of the University of South Australia to support their research in curriculum renewal, online environments, student communication, new student orientation, learning space development and evaluation and supporting students at risk of failure.

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Elizabeth J. Smith University of South Australia

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I am currently a lecturer at the University of South Australia in the School of Natural and Built Environments (NBE) located at the Mawson Lakes Campus. Prior to commencing with UniSA in 2006, I was a research and consulting engineer with the Turbulence, Energy. and Combustion Group based at the University of Adelaide, where I was working on my Ph.D. Before becoming a research engineer, I worked as a manufacturing engineer in the plastics industry.

I coordinate two first year engineering courses. A professional practice course "Sustainable Engineering Practice" and an introduction to design course "Engineering Design and Innovation."

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Syed Mahfuzul Aziz University of South Australia

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Mahfuz Aziz is an Associate Professor in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at the University of South Australia (UniSA) and, since 2007, the inaugural academic director of UniSA's common first year engineering program. In this capacity he leads the first year teaching and learning team, which involves staff from five schools across the Division of IT, Engineering and the Environment, staff from the Learning and Teaching Unit and the Library. He oversees initiatives to provide active forms of orientation, to identify and support students at risk, and to continuously evaluate and improve student experience. In the last ten years Mahfuz has developed and refined innovative project-based learning strategies and assessment schemes to assist diverse students with their learning. Engaging students in lectures, tutorials and assessments has been a particular focus of his teaching. Mahfuz has received numerous teaching and research awards. In 2009, he was the recipient of the Prime Minister's Award for Australian University Teacher of the Year. He has attracted research funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC), Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and Cooperative Research Centre in Australia. His research interests include Computer Hardware and Integrated Circuit Design for various applications, Biomedical Engineering and Engineering Education. He has been a reviewer of IEEE Transactions on Education, IEEE Transactions on Computer, IEEE Transactions on Image Processing and IET Electronics Letters.

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First year engineering learning space – enhancing student experienceIn 2008 a common first year of study was introduced for all engineering programs atInstitution Name. To help commencing students transition smoothly into university life aspace was created on campus for them to study, do group work, and develop peer networks. Itwas conceived as a space that would enhance students’ social and learning engagement bygiving them a sense of community and belonging. The space became operational in 2009 andis called the “Experience 1 Studio”. This space is open plan with a flexible layout. Apartfrom individual or group study and project work students use the space in a variety of ways,for example, to catch-up with friends, eat, and relax. This paper will provide details of howstudents use the space and its influence on students’ learning and social adjustment intouniversity life.A mixed method evaluation of the flexibility, functionality and aesthetics of the Experience 1Studio was conducted during the first year of its use. This evaluation showed that theflexibility affordances (e.g. moving walls, tables and chairs) were regularly utilised bystudents and assisted their learning. Students used the space to collaborate on their learningtasks (e.g. assignments, reports, presentations). The space further helped students formfriendships during their common first year of study culminating in the formation of a new‘amalgamated’ student social club (where previously separate clubs existed for eachengineering group).First year students can be hesitant to seek help from teaching staff, and rarely go to staffoffices even during designated consultation times. Instead, help desks are provided in theExperience 1 Studio for students to meet with staff and ask questions in a more relaxedenvironment. These help desks have proven to be very successful with students who mightnot normally seek help feeling more comfortable to approach staff for assistance. The helpdesk is managed by the course coordinator and held in lieu of consultation times based in theiroffice. This resulted in an increased number of students seeking timely help with coursecontent, assessment tasks and assistance with managing difficult group work dynamics. Ateam of senior students are also available at regular times in the Experience 1 Studio toprovide help and mentoring to the first year students.The Experience 1 Studio is used to host student project exhibitions and design and buildcompetitions between all first year students. Such activities would normally be held intutorial classes, but the flexible layout of this space provides an excellent location to holdsuch events for a large cohort of students. Local high schools, university staff and industryrepresentatives are also invited to view the students work.Sections of the space were highly utilised (open group areas and lock down rooms) whileother areas less so (red relaxation area and outdoor balcony). Inappropriate furniture wasidentified as a reason for this usage pattern. Student concerns included difficulties accessingthe space out of business hours and faulty facilities. Computer access has been problematic,with some students monopolising computers for game-playing. Most concerns raised bystudents have been addressed (e.g. more appropriate furniture provided, game playing nowbanned to free up computers when there are students waiting for a computer for legitimatestudy purpose).This paper will describe the space, explore how the students use it and how it is used tosupport learning, with general recommendations about implementing informal learning spacesproposed.

Quinn, D., & Smith, E. J., & Aziz, S. M. (2011, June), First-Year Engineering Learning Space: Enhancing the Student Experience Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18000

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