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Utilizing Peer Learning Assistants to Improve Student Outcomes in an Introductory ECE Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Teaching Assistants, Supplemental Instruction, and Classroom Support

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


David John Orser University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Orcid 16x16

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David Orser teaches and develops undergraduate education curriculum with a focus on laboratory courses for the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. His courses leverage project-based learning, experiential learning, and self-paced activities.

David has over ten years of industry experience specializing in mixed-signal high-speed integrated circuit design, power systems, and power electronics.

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Kyle Dukart University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

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Dr. Dukart graduated with his B.A. in English and Honors from the University of North Dakota in 1997, followed by an M.A. in English in 1999 and a B.A. in Computer Science in 2002. He recently received (2016) his Ed.D. emphasizing Higher Education from the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development from the University of Minnesota.

He has worked as an instructor and academic advisor at the University of North Dakota, the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of Minnesota. He currently is the Administrative Director for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at the University of Minnesota, where he has taken a keen interest in the role of student groups in engineering education and the expansion and use of makerspaces by students. Part of his administrative time is dedicated to furthering the mission of two makerspaces at the University of Minnesota, the Exceed Lab situated in ECE and the Anderson Student Innovation Labs, an over 10,000 square foot facility serving the College of Science and Engineering.

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Changhyun Choi University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

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Changhyun Choi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Minnesota (UofM), Twin Cities. Before joining the UofM, he was a Postdoctoral Associate in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He obtained a Ph.D. in Robotics at the School of Interactive Computing, College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology. His broad research interests are in visual perception for robotic manipulation, with a focus on deep learning for object grasping and assembly manipulation, soft manipulation, object pose estimation, visual tracking, and active perception.

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Frances Wood University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

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Frances is an experienced student services professional with a background in teaching, careers guidance, academic advising and strategic program management particularly with science students in pre-higher education (UK) and higher education sectors (USA) (following on from a background in organic chemistry). Her current job role is the Nature of Life Program Director in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota following on from her recent role as the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Academic Advisor.

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This evidence-based practice paper reports on the implementation of Peer Learning Assistants (PLAs) in an introductory Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) course. The course Introduction to Microcontrollers was identified as having a peak 20% no-pass rate, the highest of any ECE course in the first or second year. As a sophomore-level course and generally the first-course students take after declaring as an ECE major, it was considered a priority to improve student pass-rate, interest, understanding, and reputation of this course.

To meet these needs, PLAs were added to the course for three semesters and the results were evaluated using a combination of standardized surveys, custom surveys, and analysis of grade data. Initial indications are positive but not yet statistically significant. The program has resulted in an increase in course ratings by students (5.21 to 5.36 with p<0.12), a small decrease in no-pass rates (15.8 to 14.3% p=0.25), positive perception surveys returned 76% very positive responses and improved perception of learning for inexperienced programmers (p=0.01). In addition, there appear to be intangible benefits to PAs, TAs, Professors, and the department. These include confidence and communication skills for the PLAs and reduced variability in the course over time. Finally, it is shown that students rate TAs and PLAs as equivalently effective at helping them learn.

Orser, D. J., & Dukart, K., & Choi, C., & Wood, F. (2020, June), Utilizing Peer Learning Assistants to Improve Student Outcomes in an Introductory ECE Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35480

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