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Implementation Of Cooperative Learning In A Large Enrollment Basic Mechanics Course

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.245.1 - 1.245.7



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Paper Authors

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James D. Jones

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Dianna Brickner

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2230 . — - .- IMPLEMENTATION OF COOPERATIVE LEARNING IN A LARGE-ENROLLMENT BASIC MECHANICS COURSE —. . ..- James D. Jones School of Mechanical Engineering Purdue University and

Dianna Brickner Independent Instructional Designer


The primary objective of this investigation was to explore methods of implementing cooperative learning in a large-enrollment, sophomore-level basic mechanics course. Time in class- was generally allocated as follows: questions on past homework, 5 minutes; lecture on new material, 10 minutes; example problem, 15 minutes; and collaborative group quiz, 20 minutes. To facilitate this schedule, brief lecture summaries and group quizzes were developed for each class period. Lecture summaries minimize the time students need to copy class notes and permit the instructor to focus attention on known areas of weakness. Group quizzes allow students to “actively” reinforce the material presented so that they can identify any “gaps” in their understanding and seek immediate assistance from group members and/or the instructor. Cooperative learning groups are formed by randomly dividing the class into groups of four students. In-class group quizzes help students develop personal relationships with fellow classmates that can serve as the foundation of a support network outside of class. To further enhance this objective, student groups were randomly rearranged about one-third and two-thirds of the way through the semester. Thus, each student had the opportunity to work closely with three different groups (or nine students) in the class over the course of the semester. The effectiveness of cooperative learning was evaluated based on academic performance and attitudinal changes of students. Academic performance of the cooperative learning section shows a consistent and measurable improvement in comparison to students in a traditional lecture section of the course. Attitudinal changes were dramatic but difficult to quantify. Overall, more than 90% of the students in the cooperative learning class expressed positive comments towards this approach and many indicated that this course was among the best courses that they have had in their career at Purdue.


Basic Mechanics I (ME270 - Statics) is an introductory, sophomore-level engineering course designed to 1) introduce students to the fundamental principles of mechanics and 2) develop the basic problem solving skills necessary to model and analyze complex engineering problems.

Because of the large number of students enrolled in the course, class sizes exceeding 100 students are common. Large class sizes coupled with the amount of course material to be covered have forced most faculty to rely exclusively on deductive (lecture-based) teaching methods. However, past research [Felder and Silverman 1988] has shown that the deductive teaching style is inadequate for many students because of its incompatibility with their innate learning style. Consequently, engineering students often experience a loss of interest, motivation, and enthusiasm early in their academic career due to the impersonal, competitive, and passive nature of large-enrollment, introductory-level courses. This can frequently lead to attendance problems, poor student performance, and substantial student attrition.

In the traditional lecture-style engineering mechanics classroom environment, students rarely exchange information and ideas, and often see each other as competitors rather than colleagues. In fact, engineering students who switched to other majors were almost four times more likely than science or math students to indicate “failure to form collaborative and supportive working peer-groups” as a primary reason for switching [Hewitt and Seymour 1994]. In contrast, a recent meta-analysis comparing cooperative and competitive learning ----- $ii&’. > 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings ‘o.,~yy,: .

Jones, J. D., & Brickner, D. (1996, June), Implementation Of Cooperative Learning In A Large Enrollment Basic Mechanics Course Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia. 10.18260/1-2--6097

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