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No Excuses: Use of Simple Active Learning in Electrical and Computer Engineering

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Tips and Tricks for Actively Engaging Students

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

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Paper Authors


Samuel J. Dickerson University of Pittsburgh Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Samuel Dickerson is an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. His general research interests lie in the area of electronics, circuits and cyber-physical systems. He is particularly interested in technologies in those areas that have biomedical applications. He has expertise in the design and simulation of mixed-signal integrated circuits and systems that incorporate the use of both digital and analog electronics, as well as optics, microfluidics and devices that interface to the biological world. Prior to joining the University of Pittsburgh faculty he was a co-founder and the president of Nanophoretics LLC, where he led the research and development of a novel dielectrophoresis-based lab-on-chip technology for rapidly detecting drug-resistant bacteria strains. Dr. Dickerson is also interested in enhancing undergraduate engineering education, and investigates new and innovative methods for improving the learning experience for electrical and computer engineering students.

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Renee M. Clark University of Pittsburgh

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Renee M. Clark serves as research assistant professor focusing on assessment and evaluation within the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering and its Engineering Education Research Center (EERC), where her interests focus on active and experiential learning. She has 25 years of experience as an engineer and analyst, having worked most recently for Walgreens and General Motors/Delphi Automotive in the areas of data analysis, IT, and manufacturing. She received her PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh and her MS in Mechanical Engineering from Case Western while working for Delphi. She completed her postdoctoral studies in engineering education at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Anita Jain

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Anita Jain holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She has been working as an undergraduate researcher at the EERC since 2014 and plans to pursue a Master of Engineering degree in Engineering Management at Cornell University.

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Student-centered active learning, in which students are called upon to “do” something during class beyond listening and note taking, should be used to some degree in STEM courses. Active learning has a significant positive impact on learning, understanding, and retention of information. Fortunately, active learning can be incorporated into a course in many ways, from simple approaches that require little-to-no preparation to more complex approaches such as problem based learning. Simple approaches offer the advantages of being readily accessible to newer or time-constrained instructors, not requiring a radical change or overhaul of a course, and providing stepping stones to more complex approaches. In this study, we explored the repeated use of simple active learning techniques (i.e., think-pair-share and the minute paper) in an introductory electrical and computer engineering course in digital logic in the fall 2016. This course had previously been taught in a traditional lecture fashion. With the think-pair-share activities, students were asked to individually (and then in pairs) answer a question or solve a problem involving (for example) the illustration of a circuit and/or its mathematical expression. With the minute paper, students were asked at the end of class to write down their muddiest points, main takeaways, and/or questions based upon their lecture notes. To directly assess the effectiveness of this new approach, current rubric-derived exam results were compared with previous exam results, taking GPA into account. We obtained significantly-higher final exam scores during the active semester. Semi-structured student interviews were also conducted before class sessions and content-analyzed by two analysts to indirectly assess the impact of the techniques on student learning. Based on the interview data, the very large majority of students found the techniques to be helpful to their learning, with most citing the ability to talk to and work with their classmates to solve problems. In addition, the classroom was observed using the COPUS observation protocol to describe it and determine the level of activity and interaction. The instructor’s main takeaway from his first use of these techniques is that they lead to large gains with little-to-no extra time or preparation. Although he had previously not used them due to a perceived lack of time, his advice to new faculty is to try these techniques in their courses. Additional instructor insights and reflections will also be discussed.

Dickerson, S. J., & Clark, R. M., & Jain, A. (2017, June), No Excuses: Use of Simple Active Learning in Electrical and Computer Engineering Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28704

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