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Intended and Unintended Consequences of Rapidly Expanding an Engineering Mathematics Intervention for Incoming First-Year Students

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

The Best of First Year Programs: Best Paper Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Janet Y. Tsai University of Colorado, Boulder Orcid 16x16

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Janet Y. Tsai is a researcher and instructor in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research focuses on ways to encourage more students, especially women and those from nontraditional demographic groups, to pursue interests in the field of engineering. Janet assists in recruitment and retention efforts locally, nationally, and internationally, hoping to broaden the image of engineering, science, and technology to include new forms of communication and problem solving for emerging grand challenges. A second vein of Janet's research seeks to identify the social and cultural impacts of technological choices made by engineers in the process of designing and creating new devices and systems. Her work considers the intentional and unintentional consequences of durable structures, products, architectures, and standards in engineering education, to pinpoint areas for transformative change.

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Beth A. Myers University of Colorado Boulder

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Beth A. Myers is the Director of Analytics, Assessment and Accreditation at the University of Colorado Boulder. She holds a BA in biochemistry, ME in engineering management and PhD in civil engineering. Her interests are in quantitative and qualitative research and data analysis as related to equity in education.

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Jacquelyn F. Sullivan University of Colorado Boulder

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Jacquelyn Sullivan is founding co-director of the Engineering Plus degree program in the University of Colorado Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. She spearheaded design and launch of the Engineering GoldShirt Program to provide a unique access pathway to engineering for high potential, next tier students not admitted through the standard admissions process; this program is now being adapted at several engineering colleges. Sullivan led the founding of the Precollege division of ASEE in 2004; was awarded NAE’s 2008 Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, and was conferred as an ASEE Fellow in 2011. She has served on multiple NAE committees, and on the NSF ENG division's Advisory Committee.

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Kenneth M. Anderson University of Colorado Boulder Orcid 16x16

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Ken Anderson is a Professor of Computer Science and the Associate Dean for Education for the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. Since 2009, he has co-directed Project EPIC; this NSF-funded project investigates how members of the public make use of social media during times of mass emergency. Professor Anderson leads the design and implementation of a large-scale data collection and analysis system for that project.

Prof. Anderson was a participant in the first cohort of the NCWIT Pacesetters program, a program designed to recruit more women to the field of computer science and encourage them to pursue their careers in technology. As part of his Pacesetters efforts, Prof. Anderson led the charge to create a new BA in CS degree at CU that allows students in Arts and Sciences to earn a degree in computer science. This new degree program was first offered in Fall 2013 and had 240 students enroll during its first semester and now has more than 1200 majors five years later. He also organizes and hosts the annual NCWIT Colorado Aspirations in Computing Award for the past seven years. This award recognizes the computing achievements of female high school students in Colorado and encourages them to enroll in computer science at the college level.

Prof. Anderson received his Ph.D. in Computer Science in 1997 at the University of California, Irvine. His research interests include hypermedia, the design of reliable large-scale software infrastructure, the design and implementation of data-intensive systems, and the design of web application frameworks.

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The Wright State Model (WSM) for Engineering Mathematics Education is a meaningful disruption to the traditional required engineering calculus sequence as it offers a one-semester laboratory-based immersion into the ways mathematical concepts—including trigonometry, vectors, derivatives, integrals, and differential equations—are actually used by engineers. Research from Wright State, as well as other implementation sites, has robustly demonstrated that completing the WSM course during the first semester of college leads to boosts in retention rates and engineering persistence, important factors for all institutions seeking to keep engineering students on track for a future in engineering. However, the challenges of starting up a new implementation of the WSM at any institution are numerous and indicative of the obstacles inherent to making any significant curricular change within the rigidly sequenced course flows of traditional engineering degree programs. At the University of Colorado Boulder, the local implementation of the WSM has just completed its second full iteration. In year one, the pilot course featured less than twenty-five students, one instructor, and two teaching assistants, with all course activities housed in a single room dedicated to the class. Based on positive outcomes from the first year, administrators decided to scale-up the WSM course dramatically: the second year of the course featured over one hundred students, one instructor, and five teaching assistants, with course activities spread across multiple lecture, lab, and recitation sections meeting at different places in time and space.

This research paper explores the consequences of this scaling for the students enrolled in the course, as well as for the instructors, teaching assistants, and facilities involved in course implementation. A mixed-methods approach featuring quantitative data including student academic performance metrics, demographic characteristics, and pre- and post-survey results related to attitudes and motivations to persist in engineering are combined with qualitative data from individual student interviews and textual responses to biweekly reflection questions to understand how the course changed from year one to year two. Overall, we find that while scaling-up presents unavoidable challenges to the instructional team with regards to resource constraints, logistics, and engagement of a larger audience with a wider distribution of incoming preparation levels, the larger size of the course also presents some unexpected benefits to students. Mainly, the research team was surprised to find that even students who dropped the course derived substantial benefits from the informal social relationships forged during the first few weeks of classes. We share our findings with the first-year engineering education audience to continue the conversation about how to meaningfully create learning environments – at-scale – which can support the needs of all incoming first-year students in engineering.

Tsai, J. Y., & Myers, B. A., & Sullivan, J. F., & Anderson, K. M. (2019, June), Intended and Unintended Consequences of Rapidly Expanding an Engineering Mathematics Intervention for Incoming First-Year Students Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33000

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