Asee peer logo

Social Belonging and First-Year Engineering Mathematics: A Collaborative Learning Intervention

Download Paper |


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

Student Success I: Interventions and Programs

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Joanna Perry Weaver University of Louisville

visit author page

Joanna Weaver is a doctoral student in Experimental Psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. She is involved in research examining how instructional methods and social-cognitive factors influence academic achievement. She holds a Master of Science in Education degree from the University of Pennsylvania (2004) and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Wesleyan University (2001). She is a certified Reading Specialist (K-12) and Social Studies teacher (7-12) and taught in public schools and museums from 2003-2013.

visit author page


Marci S. Decaro University of Louisville Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Marci DeCaro is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Louisville. Her research focuses on the role of cognitive factors such as working memory in learning and performance situations. She studies these topics with adults and children in laboratory and educational contexts.

visit author page


Jeffrey Lloyd Hieb University of Louisville

visit author page

Jeffrey L. Hieb is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. He graduated from Furman University in 1992 with degrees in Computer Science and Philosophy. After 10 years working in industry, he returned to school, completing his Ph.D. in Computer Science Engineering at the University of Louisville’s Speed School of Engineering in 2008. Since completing his degree, he has been teaching engineering mathematics courses and continuing his dissertation research in cyber security for industrial control systems. In his teaching, Dr. Hieb focuses on innovative and effective use of tablets, digital ink, and other technology and is currently investigating the use of the flipped classroom model and collaborative learning. His research in cyber security for industrial control systems is focused on high assurance field devices using microkernel architectures.

visit author page


Patricia A. Ralston University of Louisville

visit author page

Dr. Patricia A. S. Ralston is Professor and Chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals at the University of Louisville. She received her B.S., MEng, and PhD degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. Dr. Ralston teaches undergraduate engineering mathematics and is currently involved in educational research on the effective use of technology in engineering education, the incorporation of critical thinking in undergraduate engineering education, and retention of engineering students. She leads a research group whose goal is to foster active interdisciplinary research which investigates learning and motivation and whose findings will inform the development of evidence-based interventions to promote retention and student success in engineering. Her fields of technical expertise include process modeling, simulation, and process control.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This research paper examines the relationship between engineering students’ sense of belonging and performance in Introductory Calculus for Engineers and investigates how a collaborative learning intervention may boost both. Many universities offer academic interventions to support at-risk engineering freshmen. At our university, Introductory Calculus for Engineers targets students identified as under-prepared or struggling in the freshman engineering math course. Although the intervention helps some students, there are many for whom it is unsuccessful, likely because social, psychological, and situational factors contribute to underperformance. Specifically, feelings of belonging and learning environment likely contribute to variability in achievement. Social belonging, a feeling of acceptance and membership in a group, increases self-efficacy for learning and social integration. Belonging can be domain-specific, such as math belonging, which is associated with increased confidence and utility beliefs about math. Information about belonging can be provided by the learning environment: one which increases belonging by encouraging collaboration and reducing competition may increase achievement. Collaborative learning is associated with widespread improvements in classroom achievement, positive attitudes, and greater belonging. In two studies, we examined perceived belonging and course performance for freshman at a large urban public university. Participants were enrolled in Introductory Calculus for Engineers, which followed the NCAT emporium model and did not utilize collaborative learning. In Study 1 (n = 113), students were surveyed at the end of the semester about belonging uncertainty. We controlled for prior mathematics ability by covarying ACT-Math scores. The greater students’ belonging uncertainty, the more poorly they performed in the course, β = -.04, t(110) = -2.71, p = .008. Belonging uncertainty also explained a significant proportion of variance in course performance, R2 = .06, F(1, 110) = 7.35, p = .008. In Study 2 (n = 18), Introductory Calculus for Engineers was redesigned to target belonging with a collaborative learning intervention. Students in this course had failed the prior semester’s math course or had recently transferred into the major without sufficient background to start in calculus. Students completed survey measures at both the beginning and end of the semester. Coursework consisted of structured collaborative problem solving with feedback from professor and TAs. Students individually completed weekly quizzes and biweekly exams. At the semester’s end, students reported greater math belonging, t(17) = -2.83, p = .011, higher ratings of interactions with their classmates, t(17) = -4.99, p < .001, and better attitudes towards collaborative learning, t(17) = -.270, p = .015. Furthermore, at the end of the semester, less prospective belonging uncertainty, r = -.50, p = .035, and greater math belonging were associated with higher course grades, r = .57, p = .014. This preliminary study has examined engineering students’ reports of belonging and experiences of collaborative learning in relation to their first-year math course performance. The findings reveal the importance of a sense of belonging to academic achievement and suggest an instructional approach to enhance belonging. Ongoing experimental research will target both belonging and engineering mathematics performance by integrating collaborative learning into courses that serve at-risk students.

Weaver, J. P., & Decaro, M. S., & Hieb, J. L., & Ralston, P. A. (2016, June), Social Belonging and First-Year Engineering Mathematics: A Collaborative Learning Intervention Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25818

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: © 2016 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