Projects

Effect of Integrated Engineering Mathematics on Student Mathematical Epistemology

Integrated engineering mathematics instruction presents mathematical topics and techniques in the context of their applications. This approach began at Wright State University and has since been ported to many other small universities. We will be studying the institutional change effort attempting to create long-term buy-in for this research based instructional strategy at a large R1 university. We will also study the effect of integrated engineering mathematics on student mathematical epistemology and beliefs about mathematics. This project begins with a survey of engineering faculty opinions on how the mathematics their students are learning connects with what is demanded by the engineering curriculum and a study of course artifacts such as homework problems and exams to examine what mathematics is demanded by the engineering curriculum. We will then design the course and deliver it during Fall semester 2016, examining and surveying students achievement and epidemiological shift.

Student Experiences in Internships at Startups Compared to Established Companies

Many learning theorists, such as Dewey and Vygotsky, have claimed that people learn and construct knowledge through experience.  Experiential learning represents one method of learning through experience, including internships, cooperative learning, and apprenticeships; however, very little research has focused on student experiences.  This study will use mixed methods to explore student experiences during internships and to better understand whether student learning outcomes differ at startups compared to established companies.  Methods include a survey and qualitative interviews.  Supported by the University of Illinois Career Center Robert P. Larsen Grant for Research in Career Development.

Fostering Collaborative Drawing and Problem Solving Through Digital Sketch and Touch

Deep learning can be meaningfully achieved through collaborative learning that requires negotiation of strategies, knowledge, and meaning. This type of learning can be achieved in context-rich or authentic learning tasks that are complex enough to necessitate collaboration. In the engineering classroom, this type of learning can often take place in small group discussion sections focused on problem solving. This project is exploring pathways for using tablets and interactive tables to support students’ collaboration in engineering discussion sections. In particular, we will be studying how digital sketching and touch affect students’ collaboration and how technology can be used to enhance collaboration. Supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant IIC-1441149.

Exploring Expert and Novice Graphical Communication Through Digital Sketching

Engineering is an inherently visual or graphical discipline as engineers must model complex systems as simpler models that facilitate design, analysis, and decision making. Sketching is an integral part of this modeling process and hence the engineering thought process. This project is exploring the differences between when and how experts and novices use sketching during their engineering problem solving. It has been well documented that experts and novices perceive engineering sketches differently based on their level of expertise. This project will explore whether we can assess students’ conceptual understanding by observing how and when they produce engineering sketches. Supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DUE-1429348.

Grit for Engineering Students: Connecting Self-Theories with Persistence

Grit is a personal quality that combines commitment to long-term goals with perseverance through difficulties. Grit could play an important role in the persistence of engineering students. We will investigate whether the Grit Scale developed by Duckworth et al. predicts the retention of first-year students in engineering. We will interview engineering students who persisted despite failing a required course to describe the conditions that support grit. Using data from the interviews, we will develop an intervention that could improve engineering students’ grit by changing their goal orientations and self-theories. Supported by the Campus Research Board at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Improving Engineering Textbooks

ECE 110 is a required introductory course for students majoring in electrical engineering or computer engineering. Currently ECE 110 is undergoing a major revision. We want to use research-supported pedagogical techniques to construct the new online textbook for the course. We are running studies to determine what features of textbooks are effective. We are investigating the following two questions. Do assertion-evidence headings in an engineering text improve learning outcomes better than topic-subtopic headings? Does text coherence improve student performance after students interact with engineering texts? This work is supported by the Grants for Advancement of Teaching in Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Affordable and Portable Controls Laboratory Kits

As small, inexpensive, portable computers and microcontrollers have become available, engineering instructors have developed affordable laboratory kits. We are developing affordable, portable laboratory kits for undergraduate and graduate courses on control systems. To ensure that the kit is affordable, we will aim for a total cost of about $100. The portability of the kit will facilitate the exploration of different pedagogies in on-campus courses. As an option, the kit could be shipped to students who take online courses. The kit for GE 320, Control Systems, will be used in the Fall 2014 semester. This work is supported by the Grants for Advancement of Teaching in Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Scaling Cultures of Collaboration: Evidence-Based Reform in Portal STEM Courses

We are creating a faculty community of practice (CoP) around each gateway course in ten science and engineering departments. We are using the CoP process to change the culture of teaching and to help faculty members adapt evidenced-based instructional reforms to these courses, which enroll more than 17,000 students annually. The CoP approach operates both within each department and also at the aggregate level across all ten departments. We expect that the CoPs will engender common ownership of the reforms, countering the current individualistic teaching culture, thereby institutionalizing the reforms so that they are used in the gateway courses as new faculty are assigned to teach them. Supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DUE-1347722.

Enhancing Intrinsic Motivation in Core Engineering Courses

In a typical undergraduate engineering program, students are required to take several core courses in the engineering sciences: statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, electric circuits, etc. Because the content of these mandatory courses may seem unrelated to students’ ultimate goals, students usually experience low levels of motivation and engagement. In this project, we enhanced students’ intrinsic motivation in core engineering courses, without increasing the cost in faculty time, by giving students some responsibility for choosing what they learn and how they demonstrate their learning. For assessment, we used concept inventories, motivation surveys, individual interviews, and reflective journals. Supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DUE-1140554. Project website: here.

Can Ethics Instruction Improve Students’ Technical Skills in Computer Science?

Many instructors resist incorporating professional ethics into technical courses because they believe that the time taken from technical instruction will reduce students’ technical knowledge and skills. We are testing the opposite hypothesis, that ethics instruction can improve technical learning outcomes in the context of a first course in computer science. Preliminary results from a counter-balanced quasi-experimental study suggest that students who receive ethics instruction early in the course take more time to examine their code for correctness because they understand the potential harms from software errors. Supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DUE-1044207. Project website: here.

Enhancing the ECE 101 Curriculum Through Student Diversity

ECE 101 is a course on digital information technologies for undergraduates outside the College of Engineering. This course satisfies a campus general education requirement. In this project, we demonstrated how to improve student engagement by using students’ diverse interests to personalize the course material, and to empower students to apply new skills in their lives and careers. Using qualitative research methods, we described the long-term learning outcomes of ECE 101: how students develop technical self-efficacy, and how the outcomes of ECE 101 differ from the outcomes of students’ other general education courses. Few previous studies have investigated the long-term outcomes of general education courses in science and engineering. Supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DUE-0942331. Project website: here.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Illinois or the National Science Foundation.