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Informal Peer-Peer Collaboration, Performance, and Retention for First Semester Engineering Students

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

FPD 2: Building Community

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.747.1 - 24.747.12



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Paper Authors


Nora Honken University of Louisville

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Nora Honken holds degrees in industrial engineering from Virginia Tech and Arizona State University. She will receive a PHD in Education Leadership, Foundations and Human Development from the University of Louisville in May 2014. She has held positions in engineering and management for Axxess Technologies, Varian, Amoco and Corning, and has taught in industry, at community college and at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Her research interests include engineering student performance and retention, and how to best teach work skills throughout the engineering curriculum.

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Patricia A. Ralston University of Louisville

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Dr. Patricia A. S. Ralston is Chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. She also has an associate appointment in Chemical Engineering. Dr. Ralston teaches undergraduate engineering mathematics and is currently involved in educational research on the effective use of Tablet PCs in engineering education, the incorporation of critical thinking in undergraduate engineering education, and retention of engineering students. Her fields of technical expertise include process modeling, simulation, and process control.

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Informal Peer-Peer Collaboration, Performance, and Retention for First Semester Engineering Students Numerous studies have highlighted the benefits of formal collaborative learning as part ofcourse design. These benefits include increased performance, retention, and conceptualunderstanding of material content for both STEM (science, technology, engineering, andmathematics) and non-STEM disciplines (Prince, 2004; Springer et al., 1999). Two recentstudies reported by Stump and colleagues (2011) focused specifically on voluntary, informalcollaboration. In one study of engineering students in 200 level classes and above (n = 150),students who reported participating in informal collaborative activities exhibited increased self-efficacy and better performance than those students who reported working independently. Intheir second study (n = 531), they concluded that females were more likely to collaborateinformally than males, and students receiving B grades reported more frequent use of informalcollaboration than those making A grades or C or lower grades. Their studies highlighted theneed for further research on the role collaborative learning might play in supporting engineeringstudents’ achievement and retention given that success in the early semesters of the engineeringcurriculum is linked to retention for both genders (Jackson, Gardner & Sullivan, 1993). In light of these previous results, the current study sought to further understand thepotential benefits of informal peer-to-peer collaboration for first year engineering students. Thestudy was correlational and investigated the frequency students studied or completed homeworkwith peers and the relationship of this frequency to first semester GPA and first year retention. Data for the IRB approved study was gathered on a survey administered to first-time full-time students in an Introduction to Engineering course at a midsized, urban engineering college.The survey was administered in week 13 of fall 2012 semester. Eighty-two percent of thestudents participated, which resulted in a sample size of 353 (79 females and 271 Males). On thesurvey students were asked: 1) This semester, how frequently did you study for tests withclassmates? 2) This semester how frequently did you work on homework with classmates? Fiveresponses were available. They ranged from Never to Always. After the data was de-identified,the survey responses for each student were matched with that student’s first semester GPA, andwill be matched with that student’s first year retention status *to determine if a significantrelationship existed. Descriptive statistics and individual t-tests were used to analyze the data inSPSS. Analysis of the survey data showed that 13% of the students never studied for a test withanother student, 12% of the students never did homework with another student, andapproximately 6% of the students reported that they never did homework or studied with otherstudents. Twenty-six percent of the students studied for more than 50% of the tests with anotherstudent and 24% of the students worked on more than 50% of the homework assignments withanother student. Fourteen percent of the students both studied and did homework together over50% of the time. Three percent of the total responses reported that they always studied and didhomework together. Females were twice as likely as males to always collaborate on homework,but females were almost twice as likely as males to never study with others for tests. The average first semester GPA for all the students who participated in the study was2.85 (SD = .86). The average first semester GPA for the five categories of collaboration onstudying ranged from 2.81 to 2.95. Independent t-tests showed that the average first semesterGPA was not significantly different for students with different frequencies of studying for testswith peers. The average first semester GPA for the five categories of collaboration on homeworkranged from 2.53 (Always) to 2.96 (At least once, but less than half). Individual t-tests showed asignificant difference between these two categories (t (166) = -2.133, p = .034), but not betweenany of the other categories. The average GPA for the study participants was 2.85 (SD = .86). The only conclusion related to academic performance and informal collaboration that canbe made from the analysis in this study is that when looking only at the frequency of informalpeer-to-peer collaboration on homework and studying for tests, more collaboration does notnecessarily relate to higher first semester grades for engineering students. This study did notask students specifically how they collaborated on homework or studying. The roles theyassumed, the goals they set, and exactly how they interacted with each other were not known.These first year students may not have engaged in beneficial cognitive steps such as questioningand elaborating on another’s ideas which are effective help-seeking behaviors (Webb &Mastergeorge, 2003). Continued research is necessary to determine how to support students’informal collaborative efforts so that they are most effective. Future studies should also examinelearning preferences and attitudes to determine if collaboration is more effective for somestudents than others.* The results on the relationship between retention and collaboration will be reported inthe full paper. Our university does not have official data available until the end of October2013.ReferencesJackson, L. A., Gardner, P. D., & Sullivan, L. A. (1993). Engineering persistence: Past, present,and future factors and gender differences. Higher Education, 26(2), 227–246.Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of EngineeringEducation, 93(3), 223–231.Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of small-group learning onundergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Reviewof Educational Research, 69(1), 21–51.Stump, G.S., Hilpert, J.C., Husman, J., Chung, W., & Kim, W., (2011). Collaborative Learningin Engineering Students: Gender and Achievement, Journal of Engineering Education, 100(3),475-497.Webb, N. M., & Mastergeorge, A. (2003). Promoting effective helping behavior inpeer-directed groups. International Journal of Education Research, 39(1–2), 73–97.

Honken, N., & Ralston, P. A. (2014, June), Informal Peer-Peer Collaboration, Performance, and Retention for First Semester Engineering Students Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20639

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