Asee peer logo

The Goldilocks Continuum: Making the Case for an Optimal Balance of Instructional Strategy in Mechanical Engineering Collaborative Learning

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

ME Curriculum and Assessment

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1220.1 - 24.1220.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Christopher E. Larsen University of Missouri

visit author page

Christopher Larsen is currently a student in the doctoral program at the University of Missouri's School of Information Science and Learning Technologies. He has worked for many years with the Department of Defense as an instructional systems designer, and has written several technical manuals on leadership and small unit tactics. Christopher's interests include problem-based learning and leadership development.

visit author page


Rose M. Marra Ph.D University of Missouri, Columbia

visit author page

Rose M. Marra is a Professor of Learning Technologies at the University of Missouri. She is PI of the NSF-funded Supporting Collaboration in Engineering Education, and has studied and published on engineering education, women and minorities in STEM, online learning and assessment. Marra holds a PhD. in Educational Leadership and Innovation and worked as a software engineer before entering academe.

visit author page

author page

Nai-En Tang


David H. Jonassen University of Missouri, Columbia

visit author page

Dr. David Jonassen passed away in December 2012; he was a Curators’ Professor at the University of Missouri where he taught in the areas of Learning Technologies and Educational Psychology, Dr. Jonassen was the PI of the NSF-Funded “Supporting Collaboration in Engineering Education” that produced the research reported in this article. Over his 40 year career, Dr. Jonassen also taught at the Pennsylvania State University, University of Colorado, the University of Twente in the Netherlands, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Syracuse University. He published 37 books and hundreds of articles, and papers on instructional design, computer-based learning, hypermedia, constructivism, cognitive tools, and problem solving. He has received dozens of awards and was posthumously inducted as a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. The last 10 years of his life were devoted to the cognitive processes engaged by problem solving, and developing models and methods for supporting those processes during learning, culminating in the book, Learning to Solve Problems: A Handbook for Designing Problem-Solving Learning Environments.

visit author page

author page

Robert Andrew Winholtz

Download Paper |


The Goldilocks Continuum: Making the case for an optimal balance of instructional strategy in mechanical engineering collaborative learning There is an explicit demand on educators to employ online collaborative tools inmechanical engineering education. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology(ABET) mandates collaborative competency as a learning outcome for mechanical engineeringeducation. That mandate coupled with the popularity of online education urges a rethinking ofhow we might best leverage online collaborative tools in mechanical engineering programs. David Johnson and Roger Johnson (2008) identify two relevant gaps in leveraging onlinecollaborative tools in education. First, they argue that collaborative tools for education are oftenchosen with the purpose of supporting prevailing instructional practices rather than transforminginstructional strategies (p. 418). Second, they maintain that current research on collaborativetechnology has focused on learner achievement while largely ignoring theory (p. 417). This study describes the experiences of mechanical engineering students assigned to aseries of collaborative projects in two semesters of an engineering materials course. Studentsutilized two online collaborative tools – one in the fall semester of 2011 (FS11) and one in thefall semester of 2012 (FS12). Given different instructional strategies for each semester, studentsworked in small groups to solve open-ended problems. The FS11 course employed Peanut Butter (PB) Wiki as the online collaborative tool.Participation was compulsory. PB Wiki was assigned to each student group with prescriptivestudent interactions. The FS12 course offered Google Drive Environment for Collaboration(GDEC) as an online collaborative tool. Participation was optional. GDEC was offered withminimal guidance on student interactions. PB Wiki and GDEC are both online cloud-based repositories that afford synchronous andasynchronous contributions while permitting student collaboration in the form of – • Creating, importing or linking text, spreadsheet, and image artifacts • Editing text, spreadsheet, and image artifacts • Commenting on the margin of contributed artifacts We interviewed 19 of these participants on their experiences in the FS11 and FS12courses to ascertain learner expectations for online collaborative tools and instructionalstrategies. Emergent results indicate that of the 80 students formed into 16 groups for the FS11course most found the PB Wiki tool and prescriptive interactions to be burdensome; while mostof the 64 students formed into 13 groups for the FS12 course tended to opt out of the GDEC toolin favor of face-to-face collaboration. Yet those student groups from the FS12 course formedwhat might be described as natural control groups when compared to the 4 student groups thatchose to use the GDEC tool. Student experiences will be described. This paper will examine the two collaborative environments and present a qualitativeexploration of the students’ successes and shortcomings in each environment. The benefit of thiscase study is to advocate an optimal balance of instructional strategy for online collaborativetools employed in mechanical engineering education from the student perspective.ReferencesJohnson, D.W., & Johnson, R. (2008). Cooperation and the Use of Technology. In J.M. Spector et al. (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology, Third Edition (pp. 410-423). New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Larsen, C. E., & Marra, R. M., & Tang, N., & Jonassen, D. H., & Winholtz, R. A. (2014, June), The Goldilocks Continuum: Making the Case for an Optimal Balance of Instructional Strategy in Mechanical Engineering Collaborative Learning Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23153

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: © 2014 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