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Using a Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning Environment (CCLE) to Promote Knowledge-Building Pedagogy in an Undergraduate Strength-of-Materials Course

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Best of Computers in Education

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1648.1 - 26.1648.18



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Paper Authors


Borjana Mikic Smith College

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Borjana Mikic is the Rosemary Bradford Hewlett 1940 Professor of Engineering and the Faculty Director of initiatives in Design Thinking and the Liberal Arts at Smith College. She is former Director of the Picker Engineering Program and of Smith's Sherrerd Center for Teaching and Learning, as well as being a 2007 recipient of the Sherrerd Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Her current areas of research are in the application of the learning sciences to engineering education, design thinking and the liberal arts, and faculty development initiatives. Borjana teaches courses in Engineering Design, Mechanics, Strength of Materials, Failure Analysis, and Skeletal Biomechanics.

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Al Rudnitsky Smith College

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Al Rudnitsky teaches Introduction to the Learning Sciences; Thinking, Knowing and the Design of Learning Environments, How Do We Know What Students are Learning?; and instructional methods in elementary and middle school mathematics and science. He has authored books on curriculum design and teaching children about scientific inquiry. Current research interests focus on creating environments for “good talk” in elementary and middle school classrooms, and also on advancing the use of knowledge building pedagogy in higher education. His most recent article (2013) is entitled “Tasks and Talk: The Relationship Between Teachers’ Goals and Student Discourse,” in Social Studies Research and Practice. Al has been spending most of his “spare” time lately as Co-PI of a multi-year NSF Project designed to introduce and interest middle schoolers to engineering concepts

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Annick Jade Dewald

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Annick Dewald is a first year at Smith College pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering. As a STRIDE Scholar, she conducts research on computer-supported collaborative learning environments in the field of engineering.

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Anjali Karina Desai Smith College

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Using a Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning Environment (CCLE) to promote Knowledge Building Pedagogy in an Undergraduate Strength of Materials CourseKnowledge Building (KB) is an instructional approach in which students work as a communityto solve a problem that requires they advance their collective understanding. This process ofcommunity idea improvement takes place through a sustained discourse. KB begins with aquestion or problem, often rooted in observation and developed by the students themselves, suchas why does a glass window pane crack with a particular pattern when subjected to a largetemperature differential? Students are encouraged to generate and post their ideas and theoriesabout the topic and build directly on the ideas of others. This discourse is supported through acomputer supported collaborative learning environment such as Knowledge Forum (KF). Theworkspace preserves an on-going record of the discourse so that participants can return to earlierideas for reflection, synthesis, and refinement. In the process, students develop a questioningattitude, learn to identify personal and collective gaps in knowledge and understanding, becomeself-directed learners who are capable of bringing in new sources of authoritative information,viewing such information from multiple perspectives in support of theory-development, andultimately learn to take collective cognitive responsibility for idea advancement. Studentsengaged in Knowledge Building not only develop a deeper understanding of the technicalcontent of the subject they are studying, they also develop the non-technical “21st century skills”championed by ABET and industry, including the ability to engage in life-long learning, tocommunicate effectively, and to function on multidisciplinary teams while engaged in authentic,real-world problems that require new learning and an effort at creating coherent explanations ofcomplex phenomena.This paper will present a case study of Knowledge Building in an undergraduate course EGR375, Strength of Materials. Two distinct knowledge building episodes were analyzed: (1)students working collaboratively to identify and fill self-identified knowledge gaps related to thematerial covered in lecture, discussion, and the readings, and (2) a take-home exam questionbased on a student-generated question posed after watching a documentary on the making ofSamurai Swords. A rubric was developed for coding student discourse. The analysis highlighteddiscourse that featured asking productive questions, providing elaborated explanations, usingauthoritative information constructively, engaging in metacognitive reflection, and also includedimportant aspects of the community’s social dynamics. Three individuals coded each of the 83notes for analysis. Additional qualitative data were collected through student reflective essaysabout the collaborative exam question. While Knowledge Building occurred in both activities,the nature and quality of the KB that was evident in the discourse was different in the twoscenarios, with more sophisticated KB that focused on well-supported elaborated explanationand constructive use of authoritative information occurring in the higher stakes scenario of thetake-home exam. This work provides an in-depth look at factors contributing to successful use ofKnowledge Building pedagogy in an undergraduate engineering classroom environment. Short-comings, challenges, new questions, and next steps will also be discussed in the full paper.

Mikic, B., & Rudnitsky, A., & Dewald, A. J., & Desai, A. K. (2015, June), Using a Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning Environment (CCLE) to Promote Knowledge-Building Pedagogy in an Undergraduate Strength-of-Materials Course Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24984

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