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Student Learning Strategies: Helping or Hindering Their Success?

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Understanding Student Behavior and Experiences

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Nancy Nelson University of Calgary Orcid 16x16

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Nancy Nelson is a Professor of Electronic Systems Engineering and a Teaching and Learning Consultant at Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Applied Learning. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education at the Schulich School of Engineering, University of Calgary. She is a 2020 recipient of the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, was awarded the Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) gold award for Faculty Leadership in 2017, and Engineers Canada’s Medal for Distinction in Engineering Education in 2016. She is a facilitator in the College Development Educators Program for new faculty at the six colleges in South-western Ontario, and contributes regularly to engineering education initiatives in Canada.

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Robert William Brennan University of Calgary

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Robert W. Brennan has been actively involved in a wide range of national and international design education initiatives over the past 12 years. He has served on the Canadian Design Engineering Network (CDEN) steering committee, chaired the organizing committee for the second CDEN conference (2004), chaired the Schulich School of Engineering's first Engineering Education Summit (2007), served as an organizing committee member for the CIRP International Design Seminar (2006), and is the current American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) campus representative for the University of Calgary. Dr. Brennan also served as one of the founding members of the Engineering Graduate Attributes Development (EGAD) group, and has been an active participant and contributor to both Canadian and international engineering education conferences since 2001. He has published papers in Learning and Individual Differences, the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, the International Journal of Quality Assurance in Engineering and Technology Education, and Advances in Engineering Education; and has published over 30 conference papers in national and international engineering education conferences. These papers are the result of his collaborations with colleagues from the Schulich School of Engineering and the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, as well as colleagues from the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto, Queen’s University, the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Manitoba.

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Most engineering schools implement retention-based student success models to monitor student expectations and levels of satisfaction. Yet many educators still question whether undergraduate students can handle the rigour of their studies. Without explicit monitoring, unless students ask for help, educators do not always know what strategies they use or how successful those strategies are.   There are a number of theoretical frameworks of student success, each of which emphasizes different contributing factors (Habley et al, 2012). At the institutional level, focus tends to be on the organizational aspects related to retention, while individual stakeholders may focus on sociological, cultural, or economic factors. Goodwin and Hein identify three characteristics associated with student success: (1) a can-do attitude, (2) self-discipline and study habits, and (3) active learning. Bean and Eaton's work focuses on the second characteristic, considering student success from a psychological perspective and looking at the ways in which students approach, or avoid, their studies.  

Building on Bean and Eaton's work, engineering students enrolled in one of Canada’s smaller engineering schools were invited to complete an online survey examining the types of strategies they use in order to be successful. A set of forced-choice questions were used to rank strategies related to class time, completing assigned work, note taking, studying, and overall work ethic. This technique was selected to minimize the chances of students faking or biasing their responses. These responses were also validated using a set of related Likert scale questions. Finally, a set of open ended questions allowed students to identify strategies they believe contribute to or impede their success.

Data will be categorized to identify commonly used strategies, and each student's practices compared to their grade point average (GPA). Results will inform educators about students' current learning and study practices. Analysis of the data will show whether students are habitually using evidence-based strategies to enhance their academic success, and whether those efforts enable them to achieve higher levels of success as measured by their GPA.

Nelson, N., & Brennan, R. W. (2020, June), Student Learning Strategies: Helping or Hindering Their Success? Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35226

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