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Learning Partners In An Engineering Class

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.299.1 - 1.299.5

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Paper Authors

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Henry G. Ansell

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

Session 1275

Learning Partners in an Engineering Class

Henry G. Ansell Penn State Berks Campus

Introduction Prior to the fall 1995 semester at Penn State Berks Campus, a program was presented to faculty on “active learning techniques for the college classroom. ” This program involved examples of working together to learn, and faculty participated in these procedures as if they were the students. The speaker was Mel Silberman, who has written a book on “active training”l. Of all the techniques of active learning that were presented, the one saved for the end of that presentation, and deemed by the speaker to be the most effective technique, was that involving having a partner in the learning process.

The education literature includes words of support for collaborative (or cooperative) learning, in principle. For example, a book by Kenneth A. Bruffee recommends that college and university teachers organize students to learn collaboratively in order to facilitate a process of “cultural change. ” 3 Shlomo Sharan, the editor of a collection of 12 papers on cooperative learning states :

“Investigators of cooperative learning methods and their effects appear to be expressing the position that significant improvement in the processes of teaching and learning in school can be achieved. ”

In engineering education, industrial advisors sometimes indicate the need for engineers to be capable of good teamwork. The increased use of collaborative learning may be an appropriate response to that need.

By the time the fall semester started, this instructor decided to try the idea of having learning partners in an engineering class. The class was Introduction to Digital Systems, in the Computer Science and Engineering Department of the College of Engineering of Penn State University. The course was given at the Berks Campus.

Pairing There were 14 students taking this course, so seven pairs were formed. This was done on the first day of class, based on the students’ choice of seats. The partners sat next to each other.

After about six weeks of the 15-week semester, the students were asked to vote whether the learning partners should be assigned by the instructor, or whether the pairing should be voluntary. The students’ choice was clearly for voluntary pairing. The students were asked to form their voluntary pairs. Five of the original seven pairs remained the same, and two switched partners.

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Ansell, H. G. (1996, June), Learning Partners In An Engineering Class Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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