June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
New Engineering Educators
26.854.1 - 26.854.17
How Engineering Students Study: Alone, Together, or Start Alone, End TogetherStudies have shown that studying in groups facilitates learning for many students, and that manystudents who drop out of engineering or computer science majors report feelings of isolation or alack of belonging as a reason for their departure. One might expect then, when speaking withthose who have persisted in an engineering or computer science major, that many would reportstudying in groups or seeking to study in groups. To understand whether or not this is true, thisstudy interviewed over 30 students from five different institutions in a variety of engineering andcomputer science majors, to understand how and why students study the way they do. Knowingstudy patterns and preferences can assist practitioners in understanding how best to support theformation of groups and the development of teams for maximum educational benefit.The institutions involved in this research include three types of Carnegie 2010 classifications(Bac-Diverse, Master’s L, and RU-VH), geographical locations in the northwest, northeast,midwest, and southeast, both public and private institutions, and enrollments varying from 3,500to 29,000 students (total undergraduates among all majors). Majors represented in the studyinclude pre-engineering, bioengineering, chemical, computer, electrical, industrial, andmechanical engineering, and computer science, Year in school ranges from sophomore to seniorin these undergraduate engineering and computer science programs.Although this interview pool does not provide a large sample size, and thus results must beinterpreted with caution, we found that a majority of students begin studying alone and seek helponly later when they run into trouble with their coursework. Despite the fact that this “start alone,end together” model for studying predominates among interviewees at all five institutions, thereasons for doing so vary. For example, students at the small women’s college in this studyreport easy accessibility to faculty as a reason to refrain from studying in groups, while studentsat the large research institution report a need to focus properly, learn fully, and make the mostefficient use of limited time as the prevalent reason for beginning their study alone.The results of our student interviews suggest the need for a larger study that investigates howprevalent the ‘start alone, end together’ mode of studying is among a large, representative sampleof engineering and computer science students. Results from such a study would be helpful tounderstand what kinds of study groups and teams faculty should support in their classes andwhen they should encourage teams over solitary work. Furthermore, a strong preference to ‘startalone, end together’ also suggests that true teamwork in capstone design and other large projectsmay be only rarely taking place, and external structure may be essential to negotiating team-based decisions (as opposed to the sum of individual decisions) early in project-based learning.
Wilson, D., & Allendoerfer, C., & Bates, R. A., & Smith, T. F., & Plett, M. I., & Veilleux, N. M. (2015, June), How Engineering Students Study: Alone, Together, or Start Alone, End Together Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24191
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