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Moving Beyond Active Learning to Engineering Learning: An Approach to Course Design and Enactment

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2018 ASEE Zone IV Conference


Boulder, Colorado

Publication Date

March 25, 2018

Start Date

March 25, 2018

End Date

March 27, 2018

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Sam Spiegel Colorado School of Mines

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Dr. Spiegel is the Director of the Trefny Innovative Instruction Center at the Colorado School of Mines. He previously served as Chair of the Disciplinary Literacy in Science Team at the Institute for Learning (IFL) and Associate Director of Outreach and Development for the Swanson School of Engineering's Engineering Education Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to joining the University of Pittsburgh, he was a science educator at Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS). Dr. Spiegel also served as Director of Research & Development for a multimedia development company and as founding Director of the Center for Integrating Research & Learning (CIRL) at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Florida State University. Under Dr. Spiegel's leadership, the CIRL matured into a thriving Center recognized as one of the leading National Science Foundation Laboratories for activities to promote science, mathematics, and technology (STEM) education. While at Florida State University, Dr. Spiegel also directed an award winning teacher enhancement program for middle grades science teachers, entitled Science For Early Adolescence Teachers (Science FEAT).

His extensive background in science education includes experiences as both a middle school and high school science teacher, teaching science at elementary through graduate level, developing formative assessment instruments, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in science and science education, working with high-risk youth in alternative education centers, working in science museums, designing and facilitating online courses, multimedia curriculum development, and leading and researching professional learning for educators. The Association for the Education of Teachers of Science (AETS) honored Dr. Spiegel for his efforts in teacher education with the Innovation in Teaching Science Teachers award (1997).

Dr. Spiegel's current efforts focus on educational reform and in the innovation of teaching and learning resources and practices.

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Megan Sanders Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16

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Megan Sanders is the Senior Assessment Associate at the Trefny Innovative Instruction Center at the Colorado School of Mines. Before joining Mines, Megan worked at the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Instructional Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University, where her role focused on supporting instructors in conducting research about student outcomes in their courses. Megan’s disciplinary background is in educational psychology. She earned her PhD from the Ohio State University, and her research focused on the idea of relevance in higher education—how we define it, how students perceive it, and how to measure it—an interest that continues to inform her work.

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While active learning is acknowledged to “work” through numerous pair-wise studies comparing it against traditional lecture, it is important that we continue to unpack the nuances of active learning (Streveler & Menekse, 2017). This is necessary in order to “design instruction that matches kinds of activities to the importance and difficulty of outcomes to be achieved” (Streveler & Menekse, 2017, p. 189) and so that we are better equipped to support faculty in appropriately implementing active learning.

Streveler and Menekse (2017) propose two frameworks to unpack and classify active learning activities: ICAP (Chi, 2009) and KIE (Linn, 1995). When studied and more thoughtfully understood, these two frameworks provide interesting perspectives on active learning from a research perspective. However, we have noted that these frameworks can lead to further confusion when working with faculty who are trying to implement and evaluate active learning (Authors, 2017). In this paper, we propose, an alternate framework for helping faculty engage with active learning: Engineering Learning (EL; Authors, 2017).

EL shifts the focus from a particular type of activity (active learning), to the alignment among student learning outcomes, activities (including but not limited to active learning), and assessments. To do so, EL provides faculty with a process for designing and enacting high-quality courses that is modeled on an engineering design framework to provide familiar context for engineering faculty. Based on current educational research, EL focuses faculty on student learning and on designing learning experiences, rather than on “covering” content or texts. Through the design process, faculty consider the learning outcomes, assessments, students, and the tasks. It is within the design of the tasks that active learning is unpacked, developed, and selected to align with the learning outcomes.

The task design process in EL first focuses on the level of cognitive demand or depth of knowledge (Webb, 1997) of the learning outcome. Faculty then consider where the students might be at the start of the course and map tasks that scaffold and build students’ knowledge and skills to achieve the learning outcome. The focus on and mapping of the tasks shifts the lessons not only towards more active learning, but also towards particular active learning strategies that are well aligned to the learning outcomes. Students are organized and provided tasks to cognitively engage with the content through discourse, calculating, writing, analyzing, synthesizing, modeling, and other cognitively demanding tasks. We focus the depth of the demand using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (Webb, 1997). The appropriateness of the task is evaluated by comparing the learning outcome depth and action verbs with those of the tasks.

This paper details the process of EL along with a case study that highlights how the process led to a more active learning course design. We also provide pair-wise data comparing results on common exams between the EL sections to other sections (not engineered) of the same course. The EL framework is further explored as a model to inform research and practices at other institutions.

Spiegel, S., & Sanders, M. (2018, March), Moving Beyond Active Learning to Engineering Learning: An Approach to Course Design and Enactment Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Zone IV Conference, Boulder, Colorado.

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