Asee peer logo

Using Reflective Essays As Part Of A Mixed Method Approach For Evaluating A Freshman Living Learning Community For Engineering And Science Students

Download Paper |


2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

FPD6 -- Early Intervention & Retention Programs

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1404.1 - 11.1404.19



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Jennifer Light University of Washington

visit author page

Jennifer Light is a 2005 Ph.D. graduate in Engineering Education from Washington State University and was recently awarded a National Academy of Engineering post doctoral appointment with the University of Washington Center for Engineering Education. She is the author of several publications on engineering learning communities and assessment.

visit author page


Laura Girardeau Washington State University

visit author page

Laura Girardeau, M.S., is a Learning Designer at Washington State University’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, and was formally a Jr. Researcher in the Laboratory for Interactive Learning Technologies at the University of Hawaii. She is co-author of several publications on collaborative learning.

visit author page


Jennifer Beller Washington State University

visit author page

Jennifer M. Beller, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology in the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology at Washington State University. She is co-author of six ASEE proceeding papers, including one that won the ASEE Best Conference Paper.

visit author page


Greg Crouch Washington State University

visit author page

Greg Crouch is associate professor of chemistry at Washington State University. In addition to organic chemistry research, Gres educational research focuses small group cooperative learning and technology-enhanced education. Greg has designed, implemented, and assessed a prototype "flexible classroom" where lecture space, small group collaboration space, and technology access are combined; has implemented and evaluated a problem-based undergraduate learning community focusing on science and mathematics majors and been funded by the NSF to develop adaptive, web-based science and math teaching modules to augment traditional lecture courses.

visit author page

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Using Reflective Essays as Part of a Mixed-Method Approach for Evaluating a Freshman Living-Learning Community For Engineering and Science Majors


Researchers at a large Northwest research university developed a living-learning community (LLC) program in 2004 to increase retention of freshmen engineering and science students, improve academic abilities, and increase college engagement. A mixed-method approach for program evaluation was employed providing a more holistic evaluation of the program’s effectiveness. The evaluation included qualitative measures for grades, retention, and surveys, along with quantitative measures from focus groups, observations and content analysis of reflective essays. Of these qualitative components, the reflective essay content analysis was particularly insightful. Reflective essays are not often used for assessing and evaluating programs, however, their use in this study provided a unique opportunity for understanding the college experience from the students’ perspective and for explaining quantitative results from grades, retention, and engagement surveys. Essay analysis revealed differences between engineering and science students, indications of their intellectual development, and how they were transitioning to college life. This paper presents a methodology for content analysis of reflective essays, describes how the results were used to triangulate and explain other the other measures, and identifies areas for improvement in the LLC program.


Traditional evaluation of LLC programs encompassing various facets of a student’s life during the first year of college are often limited to statistical analyses of grades, retention, and responses to surveys, indicating what happened but not why it happened. These measures fail to address the cumulative effects of social and academic experiences. They also ignore the temporal changes that freshmen go through during their first year and how such programs affect these changes.

The semester-long LLC described in this paper began as an attempt to improve the engagement, academic abilities, and retention (to the following year as well as retention in the major) of engineering and science students. Researchers at a large northwestern research university developed a novel LLC for entering freshmen encompassing both residential and academic life. The program, called “Teniwe” (meaning “to talk” in the Native American language of the Nez Perce), was a voluntary, self-selected program that housed students with a common major (engineering and biotech) and pre-registered them in a common block of classes during the Fall 2004 semester. A corresponding seminar class facilitated community building, familiarization with university resources, and academic improvement by teaching study skills and providing content help for linked classes.

As with any other academic program, program evaluation is an essential component for program success and continuation. Commonly used evaluation measures: retention, grades, and

Light, J., & Girardeau, L., & Beller, J., & Crouch, G. (2006, June), Using Reflective Essays As Part Of A Mixed Method Approach For Evaluating A Freshman Living Learning Community For Engineering And Science Students Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--745

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: © 2006 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