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Introducing Engineering Graduate Students To Learning Theory And Inquiry Based Learning: A Collaborative, Interdisciplinary Approach

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Graduate Student Experiences

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.776.1 - 8.776.17



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Paper Authors

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Nancy Thompson

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Eric Vilar

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Beth Davidson

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John Brader

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Michael Matthews

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Elisabeth Alford

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Sirena Hargrove-Leak

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

Session 1355

Introducing Engineering Graduate Students to Learning Theory and Inquiry- Based Learning: A Collaborative, Interdisciplinary Approach

Elisabeth Alford, Nancy Thompson, John Brader, Beth Davidson, Sirena Hargrove-Leak, Eric Vilar, and Michael Matthews

University of South Carolina


Newly emerging theories of how people learn have direct application in engineering. Constructivist learning theory, which holds that learners construct knowledge through active participation with others, is highly compatible with the hands-on, team centered, inquiry-based emphases of contemporary engineering education. Thus, gaining background in theory and practice of constructive learning uniquely prepares engineering graduate students who plan academic careers. This presentation describes a novel approach in which engineering graduate students learned about learning theory through study, discussion, and practice in a constructivist environment.

The approach was developed as a training program for engineering graduate students participating in the NSF-funded Research Communications Studio (RCS) Project at the University of South Carolina. These graduate students mentor small groups of engineering undergraduate researchers who meet in weekly Studio sessions to develop their research and communications abilities. The graduate student mentors also participate fully in the research project, working closely with other members of the project staff--two communications specialist co-PIs, two English graduate students, and engineering faculty research advisors--to study the ways that engineering students use language in learning to design and conduct research.

Training for the graduate student mentors includes a weekly seminar on key concepts of learning theory, discussion of ways that these theories explain the learning and progress of the undergraduate researchers, and development of theory-based teaching and coaching methods to be used in subsequent Studio sessions. In this presentation, the co-PIs and four graduate students describe their RCS participation and its role in furthering their understanding of how undergraduate engineering researchers learn through research. The graduate mentors also discuss what they have learned about their own research and professional development, and give recommendations for adapting the RCS graduate mentoring model for use at other institutions.


New and heightened emphases on undergraduate research and student-centered, active learning in engineering require numerous changes to instructional approaches. One especially important area for change, and one that is likely to have significant impact, is in graduate education. To be prepared to teach engineering undergraduates of the future, today’s engineering graduate students

“Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education”

Thompson, N., & Vilar, E., & Davidson, B., & Brader, J., & Matthews, M., & Alford, E., & Hargrove-Leak, S. (2003, June), Introducing Engineering Graduate Students To Learning Theory And Inquiry Based Learning: A Collaborative, Interdisciplinary Approach Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11599

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