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Simple Steps to Lower Student Stress in a Digital Systems Course While Maintaining High Standards and Expectations

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Course Transformation in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Rabih Younes Duke University Orcid 16x16

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Rabih Younes is an Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University. He received his PhD in Computer Engineering from Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA after having received his BE and MSE in Computer Engineering from the Lebanese American University, Byblos, Lebanon. Rabih speaks nine languages (fluent in three) and holds a number of certificates in education, networking, IT, and skydiving. He is a member of ASEE, IEEE, and ACM, and a member of several honor societies, including Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, Phi Kappa Phi, and Golden Key. Rabih has a passion for both teaching and research; he has been teaching since he was a teenager, and his research interests include wearable computing, activity recognition, and engineering education. For more information, refer to his website:

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Cecilé Sadler Duke University

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Cecilé Sadler is a first-year graduate student in Computer Engineering at Duke University and 2019 GEM Fellow. She is from Charlotte, NC and received a B.S. in computer engineering from North Carolina State University. In addition to her master’s coursework, Cecilé assists her faculty advisor, Dr. Rabih Younes, on his research in engineering education. Her research interests involve the development and overall effectiveness of education technology. She also serves as a tutor and mentor, providing academic support to children in local elementary and middle schools.

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Student stress is an important issue that is gaining more attention with time in our universities because of the increase in competition in every aspect of the educational process, from college admission to finding a good job that satisfies students’ expectations. Some studies even conclude that Engineering and Medicine students are the ones who suffer the most from academic stress. Experiencing stress directly impacts students health and wellbeing, and might causes them to make behavioral changes and sacrifices which in turn also impact their health and academic performance, especially as they undergo long-term unhealthy levels of stress throughout their years of education.

At our institution, the admission rate is usually about 10% and the students admitted often pursue double majors along with a minor, while at the same time getting some research experience, applying for internships every summer, and trying to achieve many tasks that would improve their resume to try to secure the best possible future job and life. On top of this pressure, some courses tend be harder than others and/or require more work.

This paper discusses the work realized in the Digital Systems course at our institution that has an established reputation of being the course with heaviest load among our Electrical and Computer Engineering courses. This course has been taught for the past two semesters – Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 – by a new faculty member who taught it the first semester (Fall) nearly the same way it has been taught for years, studied students’ data and feedback, and redesigned the course the next semester (Spring) aiming to reduce students’ perceived load and stress while maintaining the same high course standards and expectations.

Results show that by making a number of small changes to different aspects of the course, the course’s likability increased and students’ stress decreased from the first semester to the second. The small changes included adding a technical workshop at the beginning of the semester to better prepare students to use and debug the hardware description language they will be using throughout the course, combining every pair of homework assignments into one, carefully spreading out due dates on the schedule and never having two assignments due on one day, using a new learning management tool that enables students to submit their projects as often as they can and get instant feedback about their assignments, using a new scheduling tool to make it easier for students to schedule appointments with the instructor, using an always-active anonymous feedback survey for students to constantly provide feedback about different aspects of the course, providing some additional resources, and removing some barriers. Furthermore, these small changes had a surprisingly positive impact on the standards of the course. Students’ raw grades – i.e., grades before final raise/curve – significantly improved and the class’ final projects reached higher standards.

Younes, R., & Sadler, C. (2020, June), Simple Steps to Lower Student Stress in a Digital Systems Course While Maintaining High Standards and Expectations Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35192

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