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Work-in-Progress: Conflict-Driven Cooperative Learning in Engineering Courses

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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

Computers in Education Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1763.1 - 26.1763.15



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Paper Authors


Neelam Soundarajan Ohio State University

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Dr. Neelam Soundarajan is an Associate Professor in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Ohio State University. His interests include software engineering as well as innovative approaches to engineering education.

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Swaroop Joshi Ohio State University Orcid 16x16

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Swaroop Joshi is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science and Engineering at Ohio State University. His interests include a range of problems in software engineering as well as the use of technology in the classroom.

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Rajiv Ramnath Ohio State University

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Dr. Rajiv Ramnath is Director of Practice at the Collaborative for Enterprise Transformation and Innovation (CETI), and an evangelist for AweSim, a consortium that seeks to bring high-performance computing based modelling and simulation to small and medium enterprises in the Midwest, and an Expert at the National Science Foundation ACI Program. He was formerly Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Concentus Technology Corp., in Columbus, Ohio, and led product-development and government-funded R&D – notably through the National Information Infrastructure Integration Protocols program funded by former Vice President Al Gore's ATP initiative. He is now engaged in developing industry-facing programs of applied R&D, classroom and professional education and technology transfer. His expertise ranges from wireless sensor networking and pervasive computing to business-IT alignment, enterprise architecture, software engineering, e-Government, collaborative environments and work-management systems. He teaches software engineering at OSU and is involved in industry-relevant and inter-disciplinary curriculum development initiatives. Dr. Ramnath received his Doctorate and Master’s degrees in Computer Science from OSU and his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology.

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Work-in-Progress: CONSIDER: A Novel Approach to Cooperative Learning in Engineering Courses The idea of students helping each other learn is hardly new. Indeed, over the years, two dis-tinct approaches, cooperative learning and collaborative learning that fall under this rubric, havebeen proposed and implemented by educators in various fields. Cooperative learning (see, e.g.,Olivares ( 1 ) ) is group learning whose main goal is for every member of the group to learn (2;3) . Bycontrast, the goal of collaborative learning (1) is for the group to work together to solve a problem,complete a project, etc.; ensuring that each individual member of the group learns some particularitem of knowledge is secondary. While collaborative learning develops professional skills such asteam-work and communication and is used in, for example, capstone design courses, cooperativelearning, with its focus on ensuring learning of each student, is better suited for courses that areintended to help students develop deep understanding of essential concepts and apply such un-derstanding to solve problems. The goal of our work is to exploit the affordances of on-line andmobile technologies to enable an extremely effective form of cooperative learning. The key to our approach is the classic notion of cognitive conflict (Piaget ( 4 ) ). Although Piagetwas concerned mainly with children, his ideas are very relevant for adult learners as well, includingengineering students. A main point of the theory is that peer interaction is a potent component ofa learner’s grasp of new concepts; in particular, cognitive conflict, i.e., disagreements with otherlearners’ conception of the same topic is key since it highlights alternatives to the learner’s ownideas. The learner is thus forced to consider and evaluate these alternatives on equal terms. This isquite different from a teacher telling a learner that his or her conception is incorrect because in thiscase, given the authority of the teacher, the learner simply accepts this without critical evaluation. Although many engineering faculty realize that cooperative learning can contribute to improvingstudent learning, it is not used widely for a number of reasons. First, in-class activities that mightengage students in cooperative learning can have a serious negative impact on topic coverage.Second, scheduling out-of-class activities can be difficult or even impossible, given student school,work, and family obligations. Third, attempts to use on-line technologies such as wikis to havestudents engage in such activities have produced rather disappointing results. (5;6) CONSIDER (an acronym for CONflicting Student Ideas Discussed, Evaluated and Resolved),our approach to enabling students to engage in effective cooperative learning, is a novel systemdesigned to address these problems. Briefly, the approach is as follows. For any given topic T , thecourse instructor will post, on an electronic board, a question designed to draw out key differencesin students’ understanding of T . Each student, working individually, will be required to provide aninitial answer to the question, along with a justification for, or explanation of, the answer. Studentswill then be grouped into groups of 4–5 students each with each group containing students withdifferent initial answers. The initial answers of all students in each group are made available toall students in the group and becomes the starting point (“first round”) of the group’s discussion.Next, each group is required to engage in a series of rounds of discussion with each student beingrequired, in each round, to make a single post that contains the student’s current answer to thequestion and how it relates, i.e., whether it supports, refutes, or is unrelated, to each of the otherstudent’s previous post, along with an explanation of the relation. In effect, students are requiredto analyze how their current understanding relates to the others’ understanding and summarize thisanalysis. After four rounds, the discussion ends; and each student is required to individually submithis/her final answer to the question as well as a summary of the group’s discussion. The student’sgrade depends entirely on the quality of this summary and on the correctness of this final answer;it does not depend on the initial answer. The approach has numerous advantages, a key one being that it forces students to work onunderstanding and resolving the cognitive conflict between their own understanding and that ofother students’ since, without doing so, the quality of their final summary will be poor even iftheir answer is correct. We will consider other advantages of the CONSIDER approach, such asits potential for use in flipped courses and MOOCs, in the full paper. An initial implementation ofthe system, usable on smartphones and tablets, is nearly complete. We will use it in a senior-levelcourse on software engineering and a junior course on programming language principles in ourComputer Sc. and Engineering program; and hope to report preliminary results in the full paper.References[1] O Olivares. Collaborative critical thinking. Issues in Educational Res., 15(1):86–100, 2005.[2] R Felder and R Brent. Effective strategies for cooperative learning. Journal of Cooperation and Collaboration in College Teaching, 10:69–75, 2001.[3] D Johnson, R Johnson, and K Smith. Active learning: Cooperation in the college classroom. Interaction Book, 1998.[4] J Piaget. The early growth of logic in the child. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964.[5] M Cole. Using wiki technology to support student engagement: Lessons from the trenches. Computers & Education, 52:141–146, 2009.[6] K Leung and S Chu. Using wikis for collaborative learning: A case study of an undergraduate students’ group project. In Proc. of Int. Conf. on Knowledge Mgmt., pages 1–14, 2009.

Soundarajan, N., & Joshi, S., & Ramnath, R. (2015, June), Work-in-Progress: Conflict-Driven Cooperative Learning in Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25099

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