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The Teaching Circle for Large Engineering Courses: Clearing the Activation Barrier

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Faculty and Course Evolution: Teaching With Technology, Online Delivery, and Addressing Emerging Student & Industry Needs

Tagged Division

Continuing Professional Development

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1239.1 - 23.1239.9



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Paper Authors


Cynthia J. Finelli University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Cynthia Finelli is Director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching Engineering and research associate professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. She actively pursues research in engineering education and assists other faculty at U-M in their scholarly endeavors. Her current research interests include studying faculty motivation to change classroom practices, evaluating methods to improve teaching, and exploring ethical decision-making in undergraduate engineering students. Dr. Finelli leads a national initiative to create a taxonomy/keyword outline for the field of engineering education research, and she is past Chair of the Educational Research and Methods Division of the American Society of Engineering Education.

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Joanna Mirecki Millunchick University of Michigan

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Joanna Mirecki Millunchick is a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Michigan. She is active in scientific and pedagogical research. Her current work in education research revolves around examining student use of multimedia resources such as screencasts to improve their performance in large lecture courses. She is also the current Academic Director for M-STEM Academies, a program devoted to strengthening and diversifying the cohort of students who receive their baccalaureate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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The Teaching Circle for Large Engineering Courses: A cohort‐based model for faculty development There is ample evidence that traditional modes of faculty development, primarily comprising one‐time workshops, have not resulted in widespread adoption of research‐based effective teaching practices in the classroom. Based on our research about factors that motivate faculty to adopt effective teaching practices, the strong commitment of our engineering administration in impacting the undergraduate classroom, and our understanding of the literature for successful faculty development, we designed and implemented the “Teaching Circle for Large Engineering Courses.” The cohort‐based nature of the program allowed engineering faculty to learn with others about effective approaches for teaching large courses and to implement a new teaching technique in their own course. The large course focus allowed us to address the challenge of motivating and engaging students in the traditionally didactic format and to impact the experience of a substantial number of undergraduate engineering students.  The Teaching Circle was co‐facilitated by a senior engineering faculty member (a professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at a large research university) and an experienced faculty developer (director of the university’s engineering‐specific teaching center), and it included four monthly interactive sessions over the course of the term. Participants were expected to have a midterm student feedback session (a.k.a., Small Group Instructional Diagnosis) conducted in their course to evaluate the impact of their efforts. Additionally, participants completed Murray’s Teaching Behaviors Inventory at the beginning and end of the term. For their time and effort, participants were eligible for a $1,000 grant to support their teaching in large courses. Due to staffing and budget constraints, the Teaching Circle program was limited to seven faculty. All engineering faculty were invited to apply for the first offering of the Teaching Circle, and 25 applied to participate. The facilitators selected seven faculty who were not regular participants in programs offered by the teaching center and who collectively represented a range of rank, experience, and discipline. Eight faculty who applied but did not participate in the Teaching Circle served as a control group, having a midterm student feedback session and completing the behaviors of teaching inventory at the beginning and end of the term. The four, highly‐interactive sessions of the Teaching Circle addressed a variety of topics: building rapport in large classes, active learning, student motivation and screencasts, and student preconceptions and classroom response systems. They each featured readings that summarized relevant research and highlighted practical strategies for success, and there was considerable discussion amongst the participants. Over the course of the term, faculty interacted extensively with the two program facilitators, with each other, and with other senior faculty who were invited guests at meetings.  Evaluation data indicates that the program was successful. For five of the six behaviors assessed by Murray’s Teaching Behaviors Inventory, there was no difference between the participants and the control group at the beginning of the term (participants in the program were significantly less enthusiastic than were faculty in the control group). At the end of the term, however, participants’ scores were greater than faculty in the control group for all six behaviors. Further, participants had greater overall gains in all six categories than did faculty in the control group, with differences in gains in enthusiasm and clarity being statistically significant (p=0.018 and p=0.094, respectively). Qualitative feedback in the form of end‐of‐project evaluations also indicated program success. For instance, one faculty member noted that: “It was a fantastic program that far exceeded my expectations! Not only did it provide me with great ideas and an opportunity to freely ask questions about how to improve my teaching, but I greatly valued the networking opportunities with other faculty of various levels of expertise facing similar challenges in engineering.” The features of this program which contributed to its success include multiple meetings of the entire cohort which were sustained over the academic term, interactive sessions with the participants and other faculty, and the partnership between a senior faculty member and an experienced faculty developer. The small monetary incentive ($1,000) was also important. The Teaching Circle has been adopted as a successful model of faculty development by faculty and administrators in our College of Engineering. We currently are running the second offering of the program (to which 20 faculty applied), with plans to expand the program in the future. Our findings suggests that the small interactive and peer learning model works as well with faculty as it does with students.   

Finelli, C. J., & Millunchick, J. M. (2013, June), The Teaching Circle for Large Engineering Courses: Clearing the Activation Barrier Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22624

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