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The Impact of Brief, Detached, Mandated Verbal Participation Activities on Student Learning Habits in an Introductory Course

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Cornucopia

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Abigail E. Heinz Rowan University

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Abigail Heinz is an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student at Rowan University.

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Matthew Strauss

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I am a recent graduate from Rowan University with a degree in Entrepreneurship Engineering, with a focus on mechanical engineering.

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Mary Staehle Rowan University

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Dr. Mary Staehle is an Associate Professor and Undergraduate Program Chair of Biomedical Engineering at Rowan University. Before joining the faculty at Rowan, Dr. Staehle worked at the Daniel Baugh Institute for Functional Genomics and Computational Biology at Thomas Jefferson University and received her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware. Her research is in the area of biomedical control systems, specifically neural regeneration and neurodevelopmental toxicity. Dr. Staehle is also particularly interested in biomedical engineering education.

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This Complete Evidence-based Practice paper will describe the influence of brief verbal class activities on student learning tendencies in an introductory course. It has been well established that classroom culture impacts classroom participation, and that active classroom participation enhances learning. To improve classroom culture, we established a brief activity in an introductory engineering course at XXXXX University. The primary motivation for researching this practice further was due to experiences with similar activities administered in previous semesters. This activity was not formalized originally and no data had been collected to assess its effects. However, the activity seemed to have an impact on student participation as well as relationships within the classroom. Based on these perceptions, we proceeded with an experiment to collect data towards determining the benefits or consequences of the practice.

A brief verbal introductory activity was administered every class session in an entry-level major-specific engineering class. The primary goal of the activity was to improve relationships both among students who do not know one another, as well as between the students and faculty members to ultimately encourage active participation in the classroom. For the activity, students were presented with four prompts to choose from, and then they were each called upon to answer one of the prompts verbally to the class. All prompts were non-technical and completely detached from course content.

The prompts were pre-designed to span a range of complexity and were ranked on a scale of 1-4 according to predicted appropriate levels of response. Prompts with a rating of 1 required a minimal amount of planning, thought, and speaking time for students, while a level 4 prompt would require a significant amount of planning, thought, and speaking time. The prompts were presented in a randomized order to reduce any bias towards answering an “easy” or “hard” prompt. The order of the prompt levels was also changed each class session to prevent students from always picking the same level. Each student’s answer was required to be one complete sentence at minimum, no matter which prompt level was selected.

Data were collected through both quantitative and qualitative class observations, in addition to student surveys conducted at the beginning and end of the semester. The results of this activity were extremely promising. At the beginning of the course, 14% of students indicated that they were extremely likely to work with other students in the class who they had no prior relationship with to solve engineering problems. Improving the classroom dynamic between students who have no previous relationship was one of the primary objectives of this exercise, and by the end of the semester, this metric rose to 35%. Another important effect of the activity was the improvement in student confidence and engagement in the course material. As the first discipline-specific course in the curriculum, all students were in the same major during the entirety of the course. At the beginning of the semester, 46% of the class identified themselves as feeling comfortable in the major, and this rose to 73% at the end of the semester. Additional analyses of the survey responses and class observations will be available in the paper.

Over the course of the semester, this activity proved to make students not only more comfortable with their classmates, but also to adopt more productive learning strategies. These strategies include increased participation, questions, and reaction to the material during class time, as well as more perceived confidence in the material on the students’ end. Administering this activity could result in a similar effect on first year engineering students in other disciplines and improve their learning strategies for the remainder of their college careers.

Heinz, A. E., & Strauss, M., & Staehle, M. (2021, July), The Impact of Brief, Detached, Mandated Verbal Participation Activities on Student Learning Habits in an Introductory Course Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37867

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