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Visibly Random Grouping Applied to First-Semester Engineering

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Professional Skill Development

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Kathleen A. Harper Ohio State University

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Kathleen A. Harper is a senior lecturer in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University. She received her M. S. in physics and B. S. in electrical engineering and applied physics from Case Western Reserve University, and her Ph. D. in physics from The Ohio State University. She has been on the staff of Ohio State’s University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, in addition to teaching in both the physics and engineering education departments. She is currently a member of the ASEE Board of Directors' Advisory Committee on P-12 Engineering Education.

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Richard J. Freuler Ohio State University

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Richard J. (Rick) Freuler is a Professor of Practice and the Director for the Fundamentals of Engineering for Honors (FEH) Program in Ohio State's Department of Engineering Education in the College of Engineering. He teaches the two-semester FEH engineering course sequence and is active in engineering education research. He is also affiliated with the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department and conducts scale model investigations of gas turbine installations for jet engine test cells and for marine and industrial applications of gas turbines at the Aerospace Research Center at Ohio State. Dr. Freuler earned his Bachelor of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering (1974), his B.S. in Computer and Information Science (1974), his M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering (1974), and his Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering (1991) all from The Ohio State University.

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This Complete Evidence-Based Practice paper describes the implementation of visibly random grouping in sections of a first-year, first-semester engineering course. Visibly random grouping is a technique found in the mathematics education literature [1] that has been shown to have a variety of benefits, including improved teamworking skills, elimination of social barriers, greater sharing of knowledge between students, elevated engagement and enthusiasm, and decreased reliance on teachers for validation. Instructors in a first-year engineering program implemented forms of visibly random grouping in their first-semester courses. This work describes the commonalities between visibly random grouping as described in the literature and the variations of it that were implemented by the different instructors. The new grouping structure is also contrasted with methods for grouping students used in previous offerings of the course. At the end of the semester, students, teaching assistants, and instructors were asked to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the visibly random grouping technique and any impact they perceived it had on the student experience. Additionally, the students anonymously responded to journal questions regarding social connections in the course. Since students in previous offerings of the course have answered the same questions the responses with and without visibly random grouping were compared. A qualitative analysis of all of these data have led to a description of the experience from the perspectives of instructors, teaching assistants, and students. Further, connections have been drawn between the variations in the implementation of visibly random grouping and the effects reported.


[1] Liljedahl, P., “The affordances of using visually random groups in a mathematics classroom,” in Transforming Mathematics Instruction: Multiple Approaches and Practices, Y. Li, E. Silver, & S. Li, Eds. New York, NY: Springer, in press.

Harper, K. A., & Freuler, R. J. (2019, June), Visibly Random Grouping Applied to First-Semester Engineering Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33538

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