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Improving Student Retention and Soft Skills: Faculty Experiences on Transitioning to Active Learning Approaches on First-Year Engineering Programs at Universidad Panamericana

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Professional Skill Development

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


María del Carmen Garcia-Higuera Universidad Panamericana

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Carmen Villa is the director for the Center for Innovation in Education at Universidad Panamericana. She teaches courses at the College of Engineering and at the School of Pedagogy. She received a B.Sc. degree in computer science engineering from Tec de Monterrey in Mexico City; a D.E.A. in computer science form the INPG in Grenoble, France; and a Phd.D. in educational administration and human resource development from Texas A&M University. Her research interests include underrepresented populations in higher education, cultural practices and teaching and their impact on education for Hispanic students, women and minorities in engineering.

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Rocio Chavez-Telleria Universidad Panamericana

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Special Projects and Planning Specialist at the Center for Innovation in Education at Universidad Panamericana. Responsible for enhancing teaching talent and innovation among faculty through advisory for innovation projects design and implementation at different levels: one-on-one with professors, academies, schools and campus.

Education advisor for Qualitas of Life Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides basic financial education to hispanic individuals and their families in New York and the tri-state area, in order to foster their financial security and improve their standard of living.

Professor of the "Teaching Competencies Workshop" at the School of Education.

Radio host from the program "Conexiones: hablemos de innovación y de futuros" that explores the future of higher education.

Bachelors Degree in Pedagogy form Universidad Panamericana. Graduated with honors.

Research topics center on soft skills, the future of higher education, education innovation projects and faculty development.

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Armando Alemán-Juárez Universidad Panamericana

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Armando has experience in the area of composition and content creation for pedagogical faculty support. He is immersed in the field of research for innovation in higher education. Likewise, he has participated as a speaker in numerous conferences and events such as 1er. Congreso Internacional de Innovación Educativa at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM), GESS Mexico, XV Congreso CTI-FIMPES 2015, and the Inter-American Prize – Educational Innovation in Higher Education of the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education (IOHE).

Currently, he works as researcher and content developer at the Center for Innovation in Education (CIE), Universidad Panamericana. Between his interests are the learning of languages and the acquisition of diverse life perspectives. He also loves to swim and pet dogs.

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Isabel Joaquina Niembro García P.E. Universidad Panamericana Orcid 16x16

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Professor-Researcher in the Universidad Panamericana. Head of Innovation and Technology Academy. Recognized consultant in an Environmental Management and Corporate Social Responsibility. Specialist in Project Desing & Management, Life Cycle Analysis and Sustainability. She has collaborated in projects financed by public institutions (AECID Spain, Generalitat de Catalunya, Government of the D.F., National Water Commission) and private (Procter Spain, Matachana, SEAT). It has communications presented in international congresses, diverse publications in indexed journals and more than 70 Technical Reports and Project Reports. Her greatest pleasure is to teach Physics and Environmental Sciences, she greatly enjoys preparing physics exercises based on superheroes of comics.

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Keywords: Engineering education, soft skills, project-based learning, active learning

1 MOTIVATION AND PROBLEM BACKGROUND. This complete evidence-based practice paper describes the pedagogical redesign process of an introductory physics course for first-year engineering students at Universidad Panamericana, and the experience of professors that applied problem and project-based learning methodologies. Teaching and learning concepts and approaches in higher education are experiencing dramatic transformations due to contextual changes in recent years. Contemporary teaching models are student-centered, and based on active learning, technology, and social media integration. Engineering education research has grown exponentially and even though there is vast evidence of how different teaching practices can improve learning, professors still face a lot of barriers to include them in their practice. Adequate transfer of conceptual knowledge to problem solving requires appropriate pedagogies that ensure student engagement in the learning process. Quality of instruction and pre-college preparation are key for student success in STEM courses, and therefore, in the decision of students to stay in their programs (Chen & Soldner, 2013,). In Mexico, according to ANFEI (National Association of Colleges and Schools of Engineering), only 40% of engineering students graduate on time. First-year course are easy for some students, but represent a big challenge for others, who frequently do not succeed (Vargas Leyva & Jiménez Hernández, 2015). In addition, research has shown that student's prior mathematics and physics training, as well as their academic attitude, influence their decision to stay in STEM majors (Astin, 1993). Besides, since 2010, Universidad Panamericana has deployed a series of strategies to help students strengthen the professional skills. These strategies include skills ABET proposed for engineering graduates, such as multidisciplinary teamwork, critical thinking, and effective communication. Nevertheless, there is still a significant gap between the skills engineering graduates need to succeed in the workplace and those developed through college experience. To address the previous concerns, the Center for Innovation in Education was invited to collaborate with the College of Engineering at Universidad Panamericana to redesign an introductory physics course. Problem and Project-based Learning (PBL) methodologies were chosen to teach the course and strategies to develop students’ soft skills were included. The course was taught in the fall of 2017. This paper is divided into two parts. In the first part we describe the redesign process that the Center for Innovation in Education followed in collaboration with three engineering faculty members teaching the course. The second part we present the experiences of the eight professors that taught the redesigned course.

2 METHODOLOGY The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of faculty members that taught an introductory physics course. The course was redesigned to improve retention and to develop students’ soft skills through Problem and Project Based Learning. A focus group was conducted with the eight professors teaching all sections of the class seeking to understand their experiences on teaching through student-centered and active learning approaches. During the focus group interviews, facilitators started by describing the purpose of the study and assuring confidentiality. An interview guide was used, with a set of questions about professor’s experiences with projects, students, learning activities and evaluation methods. The semi-structured interview guide allowed to prioritize the questions and help with the conversation flow. The interviews were audio recorded and transcribed for analysis. Qualitative data analysis is primarily inductive and comparative. We chose a basic qualitative research approach described by Merriam and Tisdell (2016) as a simple way to understand a phenomenon and the perspectives of the people involved. We used a constant comparative method of analysis which consists of identifying units of information, and compare them to determine similarities; recurring patterns are then grouped into categories, and relationships between these categories are identified (Creswell, 2003).

3 RESULTS Preliminary results describe professors’ experiences teaching the course and how they were able to relate theory with the practice of engineering. They also shared how they perceived advancements on students’ soft skills such as teamwork, effective communication, creativity, and problem-solving among others. Faculty members described how they learned to give effective feedback on student presentations. Professor’s main concerns focus on how to properly evaluate soft skills, and how to properly balance peer evaluation results, soft skills, and academic content evaluations. Learning activities designed for active learning and soft skills development take more class time than traditional approaches. Thus, being able to cover the complete class syllabus was a constant concern for faculty.

4 REFERENCES Astin, A. (January, 1993). What matters in college: Four critical years revisited. The Journal of higher Education. 22 (8). Chen, X., & Soldner, M. (2013). STEM Attrition: College students’ path into and out of STEM fields (NCES 2014-001). Retrieved from Cheryan, S., Master, A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2015).

Creswell, J.C. (2003). Educational research. Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Merriam, S. & Tisdell E. (2016). Qualitative research. A guide to design and implementation. 4th Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Vargas Leyva, M.R. y Jiménez Hernández, M.E. (Julio-Dic, 2015 ). Programas acreditados y estrategias de titulación. Revista Electrónica ANFEI Digital. (2) 3.

Garcia-Higuera, M. D. C., & Chavez-Telleria, R., & Alemán-Juárez, A., & García, I. J. N. (2019, June), Improving Student Retention and Soft Skills: Faculty Experiences on Transitioning to Active Learning Approaches on First-Year Engineering Programs at Universidad Panamericana Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32948

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2019 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015