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Why Think About Learning? The Value of Reflective Learning in First-year Engineering Design

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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 2: Design in the First Year: Challenges and Successes

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1740.1 - 26.1740.14



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Paper Authors


Natalie C.T. Van Tyne P.E. Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16

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Natalie Van Tyne is a Teaching Associate Professor at Colorado School of Mines, where she teaches first and second year engineering design as foundation courses for CSM's thirteen undergraduate degree programs. She holds bachelors and masters degrees from Rutgers University, Lehigh University and Colorado School of Mines, and studies best practices in pedagogy, reflective learning and critical thinking as aids to enhanced student learning.

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M Brunhart-Lupo Colorado School of Mines

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Maria Brunhart-Lupo is an adjunct faculty member in both the Design EPICS Program and the Department of Geology and Geological Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Her background is in geotechnical engineering, applied geology and geoscience/engineering education. Her research in STEM education currently centers around undergraduate and graduate course development and how to best teach STEM based materials to students of all levels.

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Abstract Title: Why Think about Learning? The Value of Reflective Learning in First Year Engineering DesignThe current generation of college students is on a quest for meaningful knowledge and relevancein learning, and educators are continually challenged to meet these needs. Students will no longeraccept the necessity of learning copious amounts of technical and scientific information “justbecause.” Faculty often attempt to provide relevance by presenting real-world examples, buteven these are not “real” to a student who fails to identify the connection or usefulness of thesubject.During the 2013-2014 academic year, we implemented a simple, weekly reflective journalassignment in our first year, project-based engineering design course, which consists of threequestions: What did you learn? Why is it important for you to learn it? How else could you use it,in other courses, work or home (be specific)? The fifty students in each semester’s coursedescribed one or more skills and reflections for each week of the semester, and received gradesand feedback every 2–4 weeks.In addition to providing students with their own identification of what they learned and itsrelevance (thereby reinforcing skills and insights and promoting their retention), we were able todetermine particular skills or insights throughout the course that students found to be useful insome of their other courses taken concurrently. Not only does repetition promote retention, butalso, the use of a particular piece of knowledge in more than one course further emphasizes itsimportance to the student.We now have four semesters of data on final grades and reflective journal grades, divided intotwo semesters with reflective journal assignments, and additional semesters without, the latterserving as a control group. We identified the following research questions, in order to determinethe effect of this type of reflective journal on overall student learning in our course: Is there adifference in final course grades between students who completed the reflective journalassignments and those who did not?  Is the relationship between course grades and reflective learning the same for men and women?  Does this practice of reflective learning cause any amount of individual improvement in course assignment grades over the course of the semester?Final grades were determined through two assignments (20% of the final grade) that werecompleted by students individually, and five assignments (40% of the total grade) completed bystudent teams, where every team member receives the same grade. The remaining 40% consistedof a combination of individual- and team-based grades: reflective journal, peer evaluation,mentor evaluation, and engineering graphics. Because assignments in engineering graphics (i.e.manual and CAD) contribute 20% to the final grade, and these assignments were graded on apass/fail basis, we compared student performance both with and without the graphics grades.To date, we have found little to no difference in course grades, both with and without thereflective journal assignment and when graphics grades are included. However, there aredifferences among male and female students that more or less offset one another; i.e., women’sgrades increased and men’s grades decreased by similar amounts. When graphics grades are notincluded, overall student performance in final course grades increases with the inclusion of thejournal assignment, and increases for women but not for men—even though each class containsmany more men than women. However, results for individual improvement in course assignmentgrades over the course of the semester are inconclusive. We suspect that this result occursbecause only two individual assignments, nine weeks apart, can be directly compared.

Van Tyne, N. C., & Brunhart-Lupo, M. (2015, June), Why Think About Learning? The Value of Reflective Learning in First-year Engineering Design Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25076

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