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Network Analysis of Interactions between Students and an Instructor during Design Meetings

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Research Methods I: Developing Research Tools and Methods

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Kathleen Quardokus Fisher Oregon State University

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Dr. Kathleen Quardokus Fisher is a postdoctoral scholar at Oregon State University. She is currently participating in a project that supports the use of evidence-based instructional practices in undergraduate STEM courses through developing communities of practice. Her research interests focus on understanding how organizational change occurs in higher education with respect to teaching and learning in STEM courses.

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Laura Hirshfield University of Michigan

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Laura Hirshfield is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Michigan. She received her B.S. from the University of Michigan and her Ph.D. from Purdue University, both in chemical engineering. She then transitioned into the engineering education field by completing a post-doctoral appointment at Oregon State University investigating technology-aided conceptual learning. She is currently doing research on self-efficacy in project-based learning.

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Amanda Siebert-Evenstone University of Wisconsin - Madison


Golnaz Arastoopour Irgens University of Wisconsin - Madison

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Golnaz Arastoopour is a Ph.D. student in Learning Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before becoming interested in education, Golnaz studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In Urbana, she worked as a computer science instructor at Campus Middle School for Girls. She earned her M.A. in mathematics education at Columbia University, Teachers College and taught in the Chicago Public School system. Currently, Golnaz is working with the Epistemic Games Research Group where she designs engineering virtual internship simulations. Her current research is focused on engineering design learning in virtual environments and assessing design thinking.

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Milo Koretsky Oregon State University

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Milo Koretsky is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at Oregon State University. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from UC San Diego and his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, all in Chemical Engineering. He currently has research activity in areas related engineering education and is interested in integrating technology into effective educational practices and in promoting the use of higher-level cognitive skills in engineering problem solving. His research interests particularly focus on what prevents students from being able to integrate and extend the knowledge developed in specific courses in the core curriculum to the more complex, authentic problems and projects they face as professionals. Dr. Koretsky is one of the founding members of the Center for Lifelong STEM Education Research at OSU.

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In this research paper, we continue our investigation of feedback between an instructor and small groups of students in open-ended projects by exploring the use of network diagrams as a discourse analysis tool. Feedback has been found to be one of the most important factors for educational achievement. We believe it is especially valuable in open-ended projects where student teams can proceed along multiple paths. Our industrially-situated Virtual Laboratory projects provide a unique learning environment for the study of feedback due to the instructional design and to the variation in student teams, project types, and instructors.

This paper focuses on a comparative case study of feedback given by two faculty coaches. The two coaches led teams of mostly three students (27 teams total) in their final year of an undergraduate chemical, biological and environmental engineering program at a large public university. Students were organized in groups and placed in the role of process development engineers. They could choose to work on a Virtual Chemical Vapor Deposition (VCVD) reactor or on one of two Virtual Bioreactor (VBioR) reactor optimization projects. Two faculty members, a CVD domain expert and a bioprocesses domain expert, provided feedback to student teams during scheduled 30 minute “coaching sessions.” The coaching sessions are vital for providing feedback to the student groups. The coach is able to assess the team’s current approach, help incorporate concepts from prior courses and guide the students to improve their strategy. These coaching sessions were perceived by students to be similar to a meeting with a boss or manager in industry. The first coaching session for each team is explored in detail. Data sources include transcripts of the video recorded coaching sessions and the teams’ final project scores. This study was approved by the institutional IRB and all participants signed informed consent forms.

We use an episodes framework to analyze the feedback by breaking down the discourse into thematic units having a clear beginning and ending point. This method allows for the identification of the primary themes of the coaching session and for comparison of how the feedback proceeded for each student group. Previous research involved developing the coding protocol to characterize the feedback given in these sessions. Episodes were coded in terms of episode stages and episode themes (e.g., what coaching or student engineering objectives they addressed). In addition, the talk time of the participants was analyzed.

In this research paper, we use the tools of Epistemic Network Analysis (ENA) to compare the features of the coaching sessions for the two coaches. In general, a network consists of nodes (objects or ideas) and relationships between nodes (ties or connections). In ENA, the nodes are represented as the coded data (i.e., speakers, episode stages, and episode themes) and the relationship between nodes indicate when two codes occur at the same time. For example, when a coach is probing students for deeper understanding of kinetics, then the node of “kinetics” and the episode stage of “probing” would appear as connected by a tie in the network. The more frequently two codes co-occur during the session, the stronger the tie is in the network. A key feature of the ENA tool is that it enables researchers to compare different networks, both visually and through summary statistics that reflect the weighted structure of connections. This process was used to develop networks for the coaching sessions. We used these networks to identify the differences and features of the coaches' approaches to feedback. Results from this analysis indicate that some aspects of coaching sessions were prevalent across coaches and student groups. In addition, the feedback approaches taken by each coach did vary significantly. Most notably, one coach preferred to use input parameters as an access point for discussion of the project, while the other coach focused on fundamental concepts.

Quardokus Fisher, K., & Hirshfield, L., & Siebert-Evenstone, A., & Arastoopour Irgens, G., & Koretsky, M. (2016, June), Network Analysis of Interactions between Students and an Instructor during Design Meetings Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25782

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