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The Critical Role of Group Affect in Engineering Design Tasks in High School Biology (Fundamental)

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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

Pre-College: Perceptions and Attitudes on the Pathway to Engineering (2)

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Elizabeth McEneaney University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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Dr. McEneaney is Associate Professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst. She is a former high school mathematics and science teacher, and earned a Ph.D. in Sociology from Stanford University. An associate editor for the Journal of Curriculum Studies, she has research interests in equity and access to STEM Education, and the influence of globalization on STEM curricula.

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Martina Nieswandt University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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Martina Nieswandt is an Associate Professor of Science Education and Interim Associate Dean for Research and Engagement in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focuses on the relationship between motivation, affects and learning associated with K-16 science concepts and various instructional contexts (e.g., small groups, project-based learning) utilizing mixed-methods approaches.

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This paper examines how student perception of group affect relates to learning outcomes during three small group activities in engineering design in high school biology. Barron (2003) first extended Teasley and Roschelle’s (1993) cognitively focused model of small group problem-solving, to encompass a “dual-space” model of collaboration in which groups must attend to and develop the “content space” and the “relational space” (social interactions in the group). More recently, affect has been shown to impact small group interaction in upper-elementary math tasks (Linnenbrink-Garcia, Rogat, & Koskey, 2011). Consequently, Authors (2015) argue that academically successful small groups must co-construct the “triple problem-solving space” in which content, social/relational, and affective components are developed and maintained. It is critical to understand how small groups in high school can navigate – and how teachers can support -- the challenges of design problems that are open-ended and often ill-defined, demanding cycles of divergent and convergent thinking, design development, refinement and evaluation (Dym et al., 2005). Small groups of 4 students completed 3 engineering design tasks (oil spill clean up, designing pill coating, developing a heart valve) aligned to state and national curricular standards for high school biology. Instruments to measure student perceptions of group dynamics were administered after the first and last task while students completed closed- and open-ended learning outcome items after each task. The affective component of the problem-solving space was measured using Edmondson’s (1999) Psychological Safety scale, while controlling for perceptions of the cognitive space were measured with the Group Interaction Questionnaire (Visschers-Pleijers, et al., 2005) and the social/relational space (Sargent & Sue-Chang’s (2001) Social Cohesion scale and the Social Loafing and Positive Group Interaction scales (Linnenbrink-Garcia, et al. 2011)). Multiple choice and open-ended learning outcome measures of relevant task content and engineering practices were developed in conjunction with participating teachers, and scoring of open-ended prompts was completed with high inter-rater reliability. Quantitative data on 107 students in 27 groups will be analyzed, and results will be triangulated with video data on 10 groups. Preliminary results indicate that although all three dimensions of group dynamics are positively correlated with learning, measures of affect are more often significantly correlated with learning. Early analysis also suggests that avoidance of extreme negative affect in the group (i.e., mistakes held against you, rejecting others if different, difficult to ask help) is especially strongly correlated with overall learning and learning about engineering design practices (r=.35, p<.01; r=.28, p=.029 respectively). The study highlights the importance of all three dimensions of small group dynamics to support student learning in design-based science, but the affective component, understudied and not emphasized in teacher development, is particularly vital as adolescents engage in complex and open-ended engineering design tasks.

McEneaney, E., & Nieswandt, M. (2017, June), The Critical Role of Group Affect in Engineering Design Tasks in High School Biology (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28952

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