June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Energy Conversion and Conservation
13.726.1 - 13.726.9
Incorporating a Learning Community Approach to Enhance a Fuel Cell Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)
Undergraduate summer research experiences typically involve a mix of solitary research coupled with traditional classroom-based seminars. The short duration of the experience and the often isolated nature of the project can preclude development of the network of personal interactions that characterizes contemporary collaborative research and learning. This paper discusses steps that have been taken to transition the Materials and Processes for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells Research Experience for Undergraduates to a learning community model. In 2007, a research group facilitator position was added to build rapport among students, encourage dissemination of research through publications and presentations, and to guide their choice and voice in their summer experience. Programmatic changes included weekly brown bag lunches, student-initiated lab tours, peer problem solving and editing, and social events. Exit interview data revealed that this was a positive change resulting in a better sense of community and a more rewarding and successful experience. Future additions to the program will include gathering program input at the start of the summer to shape seminars and workshops, offering training and support to mentors, incorporating a book club element to the brown bag lunches, expanding networking opportunities, and offering additional resources to support the communication goals. Based on our results, other REUs are encouraged to incorporate learning community principles to add value to the experience for their participants.
Learning community frameworks are being increasingly utilized in classrooms and residential settings because they are recognized as providing pathways to greater student learning and development – personal, interpersonal, and epistemological1,2. There are many contexts for learning communities in both formal and informal educational settings, but the common theme is that the students are actively and collaboratively vested in their own learning, which results in greater student engagement3. Learning communities are well-suited to contribute to the training and development of engineers in areas such as teamwork and communication skills, but also in collaborative design, problem solving, ethics, and an understanding of the larger context for their work.
Undergraduate summer research programs have historically been founded on traditional pedagogy: instructor-led seminars and faculty-directed research and problem solving, with the latter often including an experienced graduate student or postdoctoral mentor. The self- contained nature of summer research projects often contribute to the sense of isolation that does not accurately reflect contemporary research. We propose changing the program paradigm from a traditional faculty-centered approach to a student-centered learning community approach. Empirical studies tell us that learning communities can increase student engagement over traditional didactic models. Students are expected to develop a greater sense of ownership and thus enhanced self-efficacy with regard to their personal research and collaborative abilities. In addition to enabling students to have a rich research experience, the program is also designed to
Martin, C., & Bratton, B., & Dillard, D., & Ellis, M., & Bump, M. (2008, June), Incorporating A Learning Community Approach To Enhance A Fuel Cell Research Experience For Undergraduates (Reu) Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. https://peer.asee.org/3872
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