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What Makes an Undergraduate Course Impactful? An Examination of Students' Perceptions of Instructional Environments

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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

New Engineering Educators Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1727.1 - 26.1727.28



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Paper Authors


Alexandra Coso Strong Georgia Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Alexandra Coso is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. She completed her Ph.D. in 2014 in Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech. Prior to her time at Georgia Tech, she received her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from MIT and her M.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia. Her research interests include graduate student experiences in engineering programs, engineering design education (especially in regards to the design of complex systems), and student preparation for post-graduation careers.

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Mary Katherine Watson The Citadel Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Mary Katherine Watson is currently an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The Citadel. Prior to joining the faculty at The Citadel, Dr. Watson earned her PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology. She also has BS and MS degrees in Biosystems Engineering from Clemson University. Dr. Watson’s research interests are in the areas of engineering education and biological waste treatment.

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Donna C. Llewellyn Boise State University

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Donna Crystal Llewellyn received her BA (major in Mathematics and minor in Economics) with High Honors from Swarthmore College in 1980. She went on to earn an MS in Operations Research from Stanford University in 1981 and a Ph.D. in Operations Research from Cornell University in 1984. After 30 years at Georgia Tech in a variety of roles, Donna became the Executive Director of the new Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives at Boise State University in January 2015. Donna's current interests center around education issues in general, and in particular on increasing access and success of those traditionally under-represented and/or under-served in STEM higher education.

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What makes an undergraduate course impactful? An examination of students’ perceptions of instructional environmentsMuch educational research has focused on comparing the efficacy of innovative teachingstrategies for enhancing student learning. Many authors have cited that pedagogies founded onlearner-centered teaching philosophies, including problem-based learning, collaborative learning,and experiential learning, have many benefits over traditional, instructor-centered tactics, such aslecturing. For instance, participation in non-traditional learning environments has been shown toincrease student motivation and sharpen practical problem-solving skills. Conversely, otherresearchers have demonstrated that students often prefer direct instruction over more learner-centered practices. Consequently, to successfully design an effective classroom environment, it isimportant to consider student perceptions of the teaching and learning process. Thus, the goal ofthis project is to explore the educational philosophies enacted in the most impactfulundergraduate classrooms, according to graduate students’ perceptions.To capture the characteristics of the impactful undergraduate engineering courses, graduateengineering students from a large, technical, research-intensive university are being recruited toparticipate in an online survey. The administered survey is based on theoretically-grounddescriptions of five different instructional environments, including two instructor-centeredenvironments and three more learner-centered environments. Participants are asked to reflect onthe instructional environment that best describes their most impactful learning experience duringtheir undergraduate studies. Open-ended questions are included to provide students with theopportunity to further justify or clarify their responses. Data analysis will be completed in thecoming months to explore trends among the instructional environments of the impactful coursesand several independent variables, including discipline, gender, and past educationalexperiences. Content analysis of the open-ended responses will allow the researchers to furtherexamine the components of these courses that contribute to students’ perceptions.In designing a course to provide significant learning experiences for undergraduate engineeringstudents, we have resources in the literature, through our colleagues, and through our ownpersonal experiences. This study aims to capture the stories of graduate students who are lookingback at their undergraduate experience and describing what made a specific undergraduatecourse particularly impactful. In addition, these results will relate the characteristics of impactfulcourses to five diverse educational philosophies and their associated instructional environment.Exploring these impactful classroom experiences can highlight connections between theliterature and student experiences as well as support new faculty who are considering the type ofinstructional environments they will strive to create in their own courses.Keywords: instructional environments, educational philosophies, impactful courses,undergraduate engineering education

Strong, A. C., & Watson, M. K., & Llewellyn, D. C. (2015, June), What Makes an Undergraduate Course Impactful? An Examination of Students' Perceptions of Instructional Environments Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25063

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