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What is Lifelong Learning in First-year Engineering Students? Creating a Baseline for Future Development

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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

First-year Programs Division Technical Session 9: Focus on Student Learning, Lifelong Learning, and the Whole Student

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1725.1 - 26.1725.14



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Paper Authors


Krista M. Kecskemety Ohio State University

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Krista Kecskemety is a Senior Lecturer in the Engineering Education Innovation Center at The Ohio State University. Krista received her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering at The Ohio State University in 2006 and received her M.S. from Ohio State in 2007. In 2012, Krista completed her Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at Ohio State. Her engineering education research interests include investigating first-year engineering student experiences, faculty experiences, and the connection between the two.

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Jacob T Allenstein Ohio State University

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Jacob T Allenstein is a graduate student in Aerospace Engineering at The Ohio State University in the process of a Ph.D. Jacob received his B. Sci in Aerospace Engineering in June of 2011 and a Master of Science (Aerospace Engineering) in December 2013. Currently, he is a graduate teaching associate (GTA) for the Engineering Education Innovation Center (EEIC) at The Ohio State University where he multi-manages both first year engineering students in the First Year Experience Program and senior capstone students going through the Multidisciplinary Capstone Program. Outside teaching, he is also a graduate research associate (GRA) with a research focus on the aerodynamics of jet engines, jet engine simulators, and jet engine testing facilities.

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Robert B. Rhoads Ohio State University

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Robert B. Rhoads currently functions as the Multidisciplinary Capstone Program Coordinator for the Engineering Education Innovation Center at Ohio State University. He has a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Ohio State University and Masters in Business Administration from Regis University. Prior to his involvement as the program coordinator, he had over 12 years of experience in industry with roles that varied from process engineering to sales engineering to design engineering. He has also functioned as an engineering technology faculty for three years at Zane State College in Zanesville, Ohio, where he developed and taught courses that included CAD, solid modeling, statics, strength of materials, machine design, and statistical process control. He is currently active in curriculum development and education research focused on design.

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Clifford A Whitfield Ohio State University

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Clifford Whitfield currently functions as an Assistant Professor of Practice for the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department and Engineering Education Innovation Center at Ohio State University, and senior engineer for Whitfield Aerospace LLC. He received his doctorate in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, and teaches aerospace engineering courses, and teaches and advises capstone design teams for the Multidisciplinary Capstone Program. He is an engineering practitioner in the areas of aerospace systems design and test engineering, with a background that includes unmanned and manned aircraft and aircraft component design and testing, jet engine test cell facility design and testing, and curriculum development and education research focused on design.

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What is Lifelong Learning to First-Year Engineering Students? Creating a Baseline for Future DevelopmentAlbert Einstein once said, “intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only atdeath.” 1 To develop students who can achieve lifelong learning is a goal of higher education.2Because lifelong learning is vital to an engineer's career, the accreditation board for engineeringand technology (ABET) included lifelong learning as one of its student outcomes. ABET statesthat by graduation students should have "a recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage inlife-long learning."3 Based on this desired ABET student outcome, the research question for thisstudy is: What characteristics of lifelong learning do first-year engineering students possess andhow do they define lifelong learning? This will form the foundation of a larger study that willalso examine senior engineering students’ lifelong learning characteristics and engineeringindustry views on lifelong learning.At a large Midwestern university, students are offered a wide range of engineering coursesthrough the first-year engineering program and a senior-year multidisciplinary engineeringcapstone design program. The first year engineering program focuses on problem solving,design, computer programming, and engineering graphics. In the senior year, engineeringstudents have the option to participate in a multidisciplinary capstone project. It is the goal ofthese two programs to prepare the students for the next steps in their career whether that isadvanced degrees or working in industry. Both career paths require students to have lifelonglearning skills; therefore, this is an objective of these programs.While the desire to produce graduates who understand the importance of lifelong learning ispresent in many engineering programs, the definition of lifelong learning and how to measure itremains difficult .2 One way to measure lifelong learning is to measure the characteristics thatlifelong learners would possess. Kirby et al.4 developed a quantitative survey tool to measurelifelong learning characteristics using the construct defined by Candy et al.5 and Knapper andCropley.6 These five characteristics of lifelong learning are: • setting goals • applying appropriate knowledge and skills, • engaging in self-direction and self-evaluation • locating required information • adapting their learning strategies to different conditionsApproximately 900 first-year engineering students at the large Midwestern universityparticipated in this study. The survey was administered at the end of the first week of theautumn semester. The survey tool used was developed by Kirby et al. 4 and uses Likert scalequestions to measure the students in five traits of lifelong learning mentioned above. Based onpreliminary analysis students identified possessing lifelong learning characteristics highest inapplying appropriate knowledge and skills (mean=3.96), and lowest in adapting learningstrategies to different conditions (mean=3.24). The final paper will include additionalquantitative results.Additionally, the students were asked to describe what lifelong learning meant to them.Based on preliminary responses, students may be able to construct a definition of lifelonglearning. For example one student responded: “Life-long learning" means developing different processes and ways of learning in school to be able to continue learning outside and beyond the classroom. In the field of engineering, there are constant developments and new technologies […] So in college, I need to develop a strong base of the different principles of engineering that will help me continue to learn outside the classroom. Once I graduate, I may need to take other classes or attend seminars later on and throughout my career about new advances and products in my field to be able to be a strong leader in my field.The open ended responses will be coded to look for themes related to the five characteristics oflifelong learning described earlier. Additionally, other themes that emerge will be noted. Basedon these results we will be able to determine if certain characteristics of lifelong learning aremore identifiable to first-year engineering students. Based on the results of this study, strengthsand areas of improvement in developing lifelong learners in the engineering curriculum will beidentified.References1. Brazeau, Gayle. A. “Is There Time for Student Intellectual Development and Scholarly Pursuits?” American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, Vol. 74, No 2, Article 18. 2010.2. Chen, John C., Lord, Susan M., and McGaughey, Karen J. “Engineering Students’ Development as Lifelong Learners.” 120th American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition. June 24-26, Atlanta, GA, 2013.3. ABET, 2013-2014 Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs. Accessed: October 7, 2014. ation_Documents/Current/2013_-_2014/eac-criteria-2013-2014.pdf4. Kirby, John R., Knapper, Christopher, Lamon, Patrick, and Egnatoff, William J. “Development of a scale to measure lifelong learning.” International Journal of Lifelong Education. Vol. 29, Iss. 3, 2010.5. Candy, Philip C., Crebert, Gay, and O’Leary, Jane. National Board of Employment, Education, and Training. Australia. No. 28.6. Knapper, Christopher K. and Cropley, Arthur J. Lifelong Learning in Higher Education. London: Kogan Page, 2000.

Kecskemety, K. M., & Allenstein, J. T., & Rhoads, R. B., & Whitfield, C. A. (2015, June), What is Lifelong Learning in First-year Engineering Students? Creating a Baseline for Future Development Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25061

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