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Using Concept Maps to Assess Student Learning in a Multi-Section Introduction to Engineering Course

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division - Visualization and Mathematics

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First-Year Programs and Mathematics

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Paper Authors


Kristen L. Sanford Bernhardt P.E. Lafayette College Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Kristen Sanford Bernhardt is chair of the Engineering Studies program and associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College. Her expertise is in sustainable civil infrastructure management and transportation systems. She teaches a variety of courses including sustainability of built
systems, transportation systems, transportation planning, civil infrastructure management, engineering economics, and Lafayette’s introductory first year engineering course. Dr. Sanford Bernhardt serves on the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Task Committee on the 3rd Edition of the Civil Engineering Body of Knowledge and the Transportation Research Board Committee on Education and Training. She previously has served as vice-chair of the ASCE Infrastructure Systems Committee, chair of the ASEE’s Civil Engineering Division, and a member of the Transportation Research Board committees on Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Computing, Asset Management, and Emerging Technology for Design and Construction. She received her Ph.D. and M.S. from Carnegie Mellon University, and her B.S.E. from Duke University.

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Mary Roth P.E. Lafayette College

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Mary Roth is the Simon Cameron Long Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. She received her degrees in civil engineering from Lafayette College (B.S.), Cornell University (M.S.), and the University of Maine (Ph.D.). She joined the faculty at Lafayette in 1991. Her teaching interests include geotechnical and foundation engineering, introduction to engineering courses, and courses designed to engage students from the arts, humanities, and social science with engineering topics. Her research interests include risk assessment for earth retaining structures, site investigation methods in karst areas, the use of bacteria to modify the engineering properties of soils, and engineering pedagogy. She has authored or co-authored over 70 publications and has served as principal or co-principal on nine grants from the National Science Foundation. At Lafayette College Dr. Roth has served as Associate Provost for Academic Operations, Director of Engineering, and Department Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering in addition to multiple faculty committee assignments. She has led campus-wide accreditation and assessment initiatives, implemented new faculty orientation programs, directed the development of multiple proposals to private foundations, and coordinated interdisciplinary academic programs. She has received a number of awards in recognition of her scholarship and teaching including a Fulbright research scholarship in Norway, an American Council of Education Fellowship, and multiple teaching awards. Dr. Roth is a member of ASCE, ASEE, and GBA. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi and is a licensed engineer in the states of Maine and Pennsylvania.

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Using Concept Maps to Assess Student Learning in a Multi-Section Introduction to Engineering Course

This Evidence-based Practice paper will describe the use of a simple concept map assignment to create a foundation for productive faculty conversations across multiple engineering disciplines regarding student learning and pedagogical approaches in a required introduction to engineering course. The authors are part of a team of professors who teach sections of an introduction to engineering course that is required of all first-year engineering students at their institution. While the course has common student learning outcomes that apply to multiple areas of engineering (e.g., that students will understand the engineering design process), each section of the course may take different pedagogical approaches to achieving those outcomes. In addition, each professor selects his/her own topic and adds specific student learning outcomes to the common outcomes that are related to his/her area of disciplinary expertise. The sections of the course that serve as the foundation for the work presented in this paper are taught by faculty members in chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering.

Motivation and Background: The authors are motivated by a desire to understand how the different approaches faculty use in this introductory course impact student learning. In a pilot project in fall 2015, the authors used a simple concept map assignment, given on the first and last day of each section, to evaluate student learning in the course. This pilot project compared student learning in two sections of the course taught by faculty in the same engineering discipline. The authors found the exercise to be a useful way to understand student learning in relation to the student learning outcomes for each of their sections as well as variations in student learning across the two course sections. The latter proved to be a useful foundation for in-depth discussions regarding the different pedagogical approaches used by the authors. The work led to the development of multiple recommendations for improvements in both course sections.

In fall 2017, the authors invited faculty from other engineering disciplines who were teaching sections of the introductory course to use the concept map assignment so that the results could be used to compare student learning across sections of the course offered by faculty members in different engineering disciplines, and to facilitate discussions of the different approaches taken in teaching the course as well as identification and sharing of best practices. This paper describes the process and outcomes of the larger project, with a focus on how such an approach can be used more broadly in the analysis and development of introductory engineering courses.

Methods and Anticipated Results: Students were asked to develop a concept map in response to the prompt “What is engineering?” In the pilot project, students developed an initial map on the first day of class and were asked to develop a new map on the last day of class. The authors then used a common rubric to evaluate changes between these concept maps and created radar plots to display the results. For the current project, students were asked to develop an initial concept map on the first day of class; on the last day of lass they were asked to modify the map given the current state of their understanding of the term “engineering.” The authors identified specific words that students at the end of the course added to the concept maps they created at the start of course. Word clouds were then created to visualize the frequency of specific words added to the maps for each individual section of the course. The word clouds were shared among the faculty members teaching the course. The word clouds then were used to facilitate a productive discussion of differences between the sections of the courses in terms of intended and actual student outcomes, and the pedagogical approaches that correlated with desired student learning.

Sanford Bernhardt, K. L., & Roth, M. (2018, June), Using Concept Maps to Assess Student Learning in a Multi-Section Introduction to Engineering Course Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31201

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: © 2018 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