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Mandatory but not Required: Examining Change in the Year Two Implementation of a Novel Engineering Mathematics Course

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division Technical Session 9

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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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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The Wright State Model (WSM) for Engineering Mathematics Education is a meaningful shift from 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. As administrators and instructors of the WSM course pilot at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU), we are interested in understanding and analyzing the change processes wherein the WSM becomes legitimized and integrated into the official course pathways of our large public engineering college.

At CU, the status of the WSM pilot class changed from optional in Year 1 to mandatory in Year 2 for all students entering the engineering college at a Pre-Calculus level. This change from optional to mandatory resulted in a significant increase to the size of the class and a fundamental change in the ways students were informed of and enrolled in the class. In this paper, we identify the implicit assumptions and narratives invoked to justify this change in the course status, and identify the various ways our story of change both aligns and mismatches with the models of change as discussed in the engineering education literature. Data sources including student academic performance metrics, course evaluation questionnaires, and pre-/post Survey results are combined with qualitative data from individual student interviews to inform our interpretation of how the course policy changes were initially motivated, advocated for, and decided upon, as well as consequences to student learning and motivation in the course from Year 1 to Year 2. Overall we find resonance across several change models that enables hindsight interpretation of the course as a story of institutional change as lived through students, instructors, and administrators, and as seen through curriculum, structures, and policies. Lessons learned from this story will assist decision-making for Year 3 of the pilot course, while also offering insights into power dynamics and consequences of policy decisions for engineering educators interested in effecting meaningful and long lasting change within any institution.

Tsai, J. Y., & Myers, B. A. (2019, June), Mandatory but not Required: Examining Change in the Year Two Implementation of a Novel Engineering Mathematics Course Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33082

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