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Meaning to Succeed: Learning Strategies of First-Year Engineering Transfer Students

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Focus on Student Success I

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Natalie C.T. Van Tyne P.E. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Orcid 16x16

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Natalie Van Tyne is an Associate Professor of Practice at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, where she teaches first year engineering design as a foundation course for Virginia Tech's undergraduate engineering degree programs. She holds bachelors and masters degrees from Rutgers University, Lehigh University and Colorado School of Mines, and studies best practices in pedagogy, reflective learning and critical thinking as aids to enhanced student learning.

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Lisa D. McNair Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Lisa D. McNair is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as Director of the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). Her research interests include interdisciplinary collaboration, design education, communication studies, identity theory and reflective practice. Projects supported by the National Science Foundation include exploring disciplines as cultures, liberatory maker spaces, and a RED grant to increase pathways in ECE for the professional formation of engineers.

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David Reeping University of Cincinnati Orcid 16x16

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Dr. David Reeping is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at the University of Cincinnati. He earned his Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech and was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He received his B.S. in Engineering Education with a Mathematics minor from Ohio Northern University. His main research interests include transfer student information asymmetries, threshold concepts in electrical and computer engineering, agent-based modeling of educational systems, and advancing quantitative and fully integrated mixed methods.

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Meaning to Succeed: Learning Strategies of First-Year Engineering Transfer Students This Evidence-Based Practice paper will describe the learning strategies used by first-year engineering transfer students in an introductory engineering design course. First-year engineering students, including transfer students, often develop the habit of working on homework assignments and studying for tests at the last minute, “just-in-time” to meet a deadline. While “just-in-time” processes may work well in manufacturing or when handling fresh foods, the habit of attempting to learn at the last minute often results in poor quality work and poor performance on tests, causing students to wonder what they actually learned when they reflect on their course experiences later on.

By neglecting to set priorities, monitor progress, and search for the underlying meaning of their course material, these students will do well enough to “get by” or even achieve success during their first year courses, and yet falter when they encounter a greater need for conceptual knowledge coupled with a heavier course workload in their upper level courses. Students who approach their studies with the intent to “get by” without engaging with course material in a meaningful way are said to have a “surface” approach to learning, as opposed to a “deep” approach that demonstrates an engagement with learning. A third approach has also been identified, called a “strategic approach”, where the intent is to achieve high grades, whether through a “surface” or “deep” approach, or a combination of the two.

Many of our transfer students who are taking a required and customized one-semester first-year engineering course are also taking more advanced foundation courses, in which they are already experiencing the greater academic intensity of the sophomore year of an engineering curriculum. As a result, they may choose to disengage from their course work rather than apply an approach to learning that would enable them to be more successful. In the extreme case, some may leave an engineering program to switch to one with less rigor. Since greater interaction with faculty has been shown to encourage greater academic engagement, guided practice in meaningful learning approaches and strategies should be provided to students, especially those who persist in following the “surface” approach.

A better understanding of the existing learning approaches and strategies used by these students is a necessary starting point for the mitigation of possible academic disengagement. Therefore, this study will focus on the learning approaches and strategies used by first-year engineering transfer students, in order to inform educators about what types of guided practice may be useful to encourage these students to adopt and/or reinforce learning strategies that will help them to be more successful in their concurrent and future courses. Existing literature has provided little evidence about the learning approaches and strategies of traditional-aged first-year engineering students, much less engineering transfer students.

Data will be collected through written essays by approximately 100 participants as a homework assignment. The assignment contains prompts about how the participants plan their study schedule, identify their most useful methods for studying, decide when they have “studied enough” for a test or worked “long enough” on a project, participate in a study group, and indicate how they regard the certainty of their study materials. The data will be analyzed by coding for specific types of learning strategies associated with a “deep” vs. “surface” approach to learning, with codes for both cognitive and metacognitive learning strategies such as setting goals, self-questioning and self-testing, peer learning, and using reflection to summarize or draw conclusions. The essay prompts are not intended to be course-specific, and the participants will be encouraged to differentiate their learning strategies among their courses.

Variations are anticipated in the use of learning strategies among courses. In addition, course delivery methods, as described by participants, will exert an effect on a participant’s choice of learning strategies, because they convey instructors’ expectations for both mastery and performance. Results will be compared to those for a cohort of traditional-aged first-year engineering students for similarities and differences in approaches to learning and choices of learning strategies. This study is intended to discern the extent to which engineering transfer students are more, or less, academically engaged than their entering first-year counterparts.

Van Tyne, N. C., & McNair, L. D., & Reeping, D. (2021, July), Meaning to Succeed: Learning Strategies of First-Year Engineering Transfer Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37489

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