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Small Interventions, Big Impacts: How Modification Of Delivery Process Of In Class Activities For Freshmen Can Dramatically Improve Learning

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Tricks of the Trade I

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1085.1 - 13.1085.26



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Paper Authors


Aly Tawfik Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Aly Tawfik is the VTSTA President and a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. He is a doctoral student in the Charles E. Via, Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His research is in the area of transportation systems. He is currently a workshop leader for freshmen courses at Virginia Tech.

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Janis Terpenny Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Janis Terpenny is an Associate Professor in Engineering Education and Mechanical Engineering, and an affiliate faculty of Industrial & Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. She is Director of the Center for e-Design, a multi-university NSF I/UCRC center. Her research focuses on methods and representation schemes for early design process and on engineering design education. She was previously an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts and worked at General Electric (GE), including the completion of a two-year management program. She is a member of ASEE, ASME, IIE, and Alpha Pi Mu and is the Design Economics area editor for The Engineering Economist.

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Richard Goff Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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Richard Goff is an Associate Professor and Assistant Department Head of the Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech. He is also the Pete White Chair of Innovation in Engineering Education and the Director of the Frith Freshman Engineering Design Laboratory and the Faculty Advisor of the VT Mini-Baja Team. He is actively involved in bringing joy and adventure to the educational process and is the recipient of numerous University teaching awards.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Small Interventions, Big Impacts: How Modification of Delivery Process of In-class Activities for Freshmen Can Dramatically Improve Learning


This paper discusses the impact of using informed instructional design and subsequent delivery processes of classroom activities on learning outcomes in first-year engineering classes. The paper shows how minor additions or changes done by the instructor can lead to noticeably better learning outcomes, and higher student satisfaction and perception. In this study, learning outcomes are evaluated by the instructor, while students’ satisfaction and perception is measured using direct surveys. Four previously tested and two suggested example hands-on activities are discussed in the paper. In addition to the activities, the paper also addresses how instructor delivery of the activities influences learning outcomes in a typical classroom environment. The paper demonstrates the powerful influence of an instructor’s teaching style and approach on class behavior and response, and hence, suggests careful and detailed design of the process of instructional delivery.

This study was performed on three workshops with average enrollments of 27 students each. While two of the workshops had almost equal gender compositions, with approximately 40% females, the third workshop was an all male workshop. One of the classes was taught on Wednesdays, and the other two were taught on Fridays. During the one-day time gap between the two classes, the instructor made minor adjustments of the delivery process, and then applied these during the Friday class. These adjustments were based on instructor reflections, peer suggestions, and students’ feedback. The workshops are the active learning sessions for the “Engineering Exploration” class, which is a core introductory engineering course for all first- year engineering students at Virginia Tech. The study was performed over the fall semester of 2007. Statistical tests and measures show that while the two similar workshops belonged to the same population, with respect to means and standard deviations of the learning outcome measures, they significantly differed with respect to students’ satisfaction. Statistical methods for appropriate analysis of data are also reported.


The Engineering Exploration course is a mandatory core course to all engineering students at Virginia Tech, and is offered at the freshmen level. However, it is not uncustomary to find several sophomores registered for the course. The total number of students initially enrolled for this course in Fall 2007 semester was more than 1,350 students1. The number of students taking the final exam was more than 1,200 students, i.e. more than a 90% course retention level.

This course is a two credit hours course. It is taught in a lecture-workshop format, and was taught by 5 faculty and 16 graduate teaching assistants (GTA’s). The students were divided among 8 lectures, i.e. around an average of 150 students per lecture, and 45 workshops, i.e. around an average of 27 students per workshop. Both lectures and workshops were delivered once a week. While lectures were 50 minutes and were typically taught by faculty, workshops

Tawfik, A., & Terpenny, J., & Goff, R. (2008, June), Small Interventions, Big Impacts: How Modification Of Delivery Process Of In Class Activities For Freshmen Can Dramatically Improve Learning Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4031

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015