June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Educational Research and Methods
This work in progress describes how a multifaceted faculty team in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) is redefining teaching and learning in the junior year of the undergraduate degree program. Also known as the rigorous "technical core," it is well known that students struggle to grasp, and see the relevance of, extremely abstract and mathematically intense concepts introduced in the middle two years of the curriculum. With the goals of increasing overall understanding and reversing the alarming ECE national retention trend, the team is emphasizing knowledge integration – which builds on the concept of "nanocourses" – to help students connect the dots between topics and understand why they are learning material.
In 2015, the ECE department received a five-year RED (Revolutionizing Engineering Departments) grant from the National Science Foundation to perform research that leads to scalable and sustainable change in engineering and computer science education for the nation. This paper describes how the department is, in effect, throwing away courses to overcome the challenges of the current educational system. Because the new pedagogical and organizational approach calls for a holistic view of the undergraduate degree, faculty members are thinking beyond the walls of their own classrooms to ensure students gain a big picture understanding of the discipline. This paper outlines the detailed process that allowed the faculty to step out of their traditional roles to prepare for revolutionary change and lay the groundwork for knowledge integration by dissecting, rearranging, and synchronizing content from seven ECE courses in the junior year.
This paper also explores the motivation and process for implementing and assessing a series of knowledge integration (KI) activities, which serve as vehicles for helping students grasp the commonality and correlations between core concepts across the curriculum. In an environment conducive to dialogue, inquiry, and problem-solving, KI activities bring together into one room all the faculty members and students from the technical core for hands-on, group exercises. In addition to showing students firsthand how problems can be approached from multiple perspectives, KI activities illustrate societal relevance by demonstrating how anchoring concepts are integrated to form the building blocks of familiar applications such as the smart phone.
After months of preparing for change, the team is energized by their early successes, but the idea that people are resistant to change has been affirmed. This paper shares the challenges the team has faced, and the steps they have taken to gracefully address student opposition and anxieties. As the department prepares for the next phase of the project, it seeks feedback and lessons learned from the engineering community to improve the project and extend the work to institutions across the country.
Chen, T., & Notaros, B. M., & Pezeshki, A., & Roy, S., & Maciejewski, A. A., & Reese, M. D. (2017, June), Work In Progress: Knowledge Integration to Understand Why Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29166
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