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Work-in-progress: A novel approach to collaborative learning in engineering programs

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Computers in Education (CoED) Engineering Poster Session

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1391.1 - 23.1391.18



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Paper Authors


Neelam Soundarajan Ohio State University

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Dr. Soundarajan is an associate professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Ohio State. His interests include software engineering and engineering education.

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Work-in-Progress: A Novel Approach to Collaborative Learning in Engineering ProgramsThe importance of collaborative learning is well recognized. But achieving collaborative learning,especially in engineering (or, in general, in STEM) courses, is challenging. Programs have intro-duced team projects, especially capstone design projects, and these do contribute to collaborativelearning. How do we extend the benefits of collaborative learning across the curriculum?Over the last several years, a number of online technologies that can be used to effect collaborativelearning have been introduced. Especially promising are wikis. A wiki allows a group to work on adocument, each group member being able to any parts they want to. The wiki maintains a record ofall changes so any previous version may be restored if necessary; and the history of changes can beseen by any group member. Further, wikis only require a standard web browser to be installed onthe user’s computer. Given these attributes, programs in various disciplines have introduced wiki-based collaborative activities. But researchers have reported that the activities have not resulted inpromoting collaborative learning. The results have been especially poor in STEM courses [J Rick,M Guzdial, Situating CoWeb, Int. J. of Computer Supported Collab. Learning, 2006].Peer-instruction (PI) is a classroom technique that helps students help each other develop deep un-derstanding [E Mazur, Peer instruction: A user’s manual, 1997]. Briefly, PI works as follows: thelecturer poses a conceptual multiple-choice question; students work individually for 3–4 minutesand submit their answers via a clicker-like tool; they then turn to their neighbors and, in groupsof 4 or 5, discuss the question, each trying to persuade the others of the correctness of their ownanswer; after a few minutes discussion, each student resubmits the answer which may or may notbe the same as the one submitted before. A quick look at her monitor tells the instructor how wellthe class understands the concept and helps guide the class discussion that follows. Use of the ap-proach in many STEM courses has shown that the discussion among students helps many more tochange from wrong to right answers than the other way. Thus PI shows that collaborative learningcan work well in STEM courses. But there are some issues. If most students in a group came tothe same answer individually, they may not have much to discuss. Second, the learning is limitedto the item underlying the multiple-choice question. Third, PI can be disruptive to the lecture.We are developing an on-line collaborative learning approach that borrows ideas from PI. Detailsof the approach and prototype system will appear in the full paper; here we provide a summary.A key part of STEM courses are homeworks/assignments of varying difficulty. We organize eachassignment into two parts. The first, which will be similar to a PI question, will be posted to eachstudent’s web page at a specified time and the student required to answer within 24 hours. Basedon the submitted answers, the system will form groups of 4–5 students, each group containingstudents who picked different answers; the system will send to each student in the group a link to awiki for that group to discuss the problem. Each student will then resubmit the answer. The systemwill then send, to each member in the group, a link to another wiki which will contain the second(more detailed) part of the assignment and the students will be asked to discuss the assignment andsubmit a common answer in 3–4 days. The original wiki, with an extra section from the instructorproviding the answer to the first part with a suitable explanation, will be available for students toconsult. Once all groups have submitted their answers, the instructor will discuss the problem inclass and a class-wide wiki set up to discuss the problem and its connections to other topics. Thefull paper will report on our plans to assess the approach, alternative ways to create the wikis, etc.

Soundarajan, N. (2013, June), Work-in-progress: A novel approach to collaborative learning in engineering programs Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22777

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