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ASEE Connections
December 2013 Subscribe
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eBook Collections from The Institution of Engineering and Technology (The IET) - 15% off

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Advanced Online Testing Solutions in a Freshman Engineering Computation Lab

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I. Databytes

Female Enrollment in Engineering Undergraduate Programs Still Growing

Since 2007 there has been a moderate and steady increase in percentage of females enrolled in an undergraduate engineering program. The average annual growth from 2007 to 2012 is .33 percent.





II. Congressional Hotline


Rep.Chris Collins (R, NY), with support from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) has introduced the TRANSFER (Technology and Research Accelerating National Security and Future Economic Resliency) Act, intended to accelerate transition of technology developed at universities, federal laboratories and non-profit research institutions to the private sector. The bill builds upon the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program by creating grant opportunities for proof-of-concept research and other innovative technology transfer activities at universities, research institutes and federal laboratories to accelerate the commercialization of federally-funded research and technologies." See "Extra Jolt" in the December Prism for a review of SBIR and STTR programs.


Richard Templeton, CEO of Texas Instruments, Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and National Academy of Engineering President Charles Vest spoke as one before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.


Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY) and Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy (D, Mass.) are seeking support for the STEM Gateways Act, which they say would "create a grant program for elementary and secondary schools, community colleges, and partner organizations that support students from historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged backgrounds." The bill would "encourage underrepresented and disadvantaged students' interest in STEM fields; support classroom success and career preparation in STEM fields; (and) improve access to STEM career opportunities for women, underrepresented minorities, and students from all economic backgrounds." It's won support from, among others, the American Chemical Society, the Boston Museum of Science, Girls Inc., National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, and the National Science Teachers Association.


Virginia Democrat Mark Warner


The White House is throwing its support behind HR 3309, the "Innovation Act," which passed the House Dec. 5 by a vote of 325 to 91. The Washington Post reports that "the legislation is designed to rein in the growing problem of patent trolls, companies who make no useful products themselves but profit by threatening other companies with lawsuits." After it cleared the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support, the Office of Management and Budget said "the bill would improve incentives for future innovation while protecting the overall integrity of the patent system."




Virginia Democrat Mark Warner

Step Online in Style

Techniques for mastering MOOCs – from 'lecturelets' to stage presence

By Mary Lord

What would prompt a tenured faculty member to stare into the camera's unblinking lens and teach a course that requires prodigious amounts of preparation, yet conveys no credit or extra pay?

For John Owens, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of California, Davis, it was the "phenomenal" opportunity to reach thousands of students and help shape the future of education rather than have to comply with some top-down directive later. Altruism, specifically a "corny" desire to expand access to learning and "maybe excite high school students" about engineering, spurred Georgia Tech mechanical engineer Wayne Whiteman's studio debut. Whatever the reason, the rapid rise of massive open online courses – Coursera alone claims 5 million students worldwide – means there may be a MOOC in your future.

MOOCs are "a very different experience than teaching in a classroom," cautions Owens, who became the first MOOC maker on campus with the launch of Introduction to Parallel Programming on Udacity in February. In a real classroom, instructors can see if students look puzzled and come up with different examples or explanations on the fly. Not so with a one-way MOOC broadcast. Also, "you can't just take your lecture notes for class and read them on camera," advises Whiteman, whose five-week Introduction to Engineering Mechanics debuted on Coursera last spring.

The rewards – from institutional, departmental, or personal prestige to improved pedagogy and learning outcomes – seem worth the effort, however. These tips from the MOOC masters should help engineering educators step online in style.

Keep It Short

Think of MOOCs as educational TV for channel surfers: Attention and attendance wane quickly. "Signing up is really a low bar," notes Georgia Tech's Whiteman, whose first online offering attracted 17,000 registrants, with 2,000 sticking through all five quizzes and 1,500 earning a statement of accomplishment. While that's still "more students than I've touched in my statics courses in my entire 30-year career," he says, falloff is significant. Moreover, MOOCs attract a wide spectrum of ages and experiences. Whiteman's, for example, enrolled students as young as 10 along with 4.5 percent who were academics or had Ph.D.'s.

To captivate such a diverse audience, "it's good to have bite-sized content," advises Whiteman, who has distilled basic mechanics into short modules and "edu-bytes" of no more than 10 minutes. Armando Fox, professor in residence in electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, reorganized his 90-minute lecture into 8-to-12-minute video segments or "lecturelets" for his software engineering MOOC, each covering a topic with one or two self-check questions. Evidence from the field suggests shorter is sweeter. New data from edX, a nonprofit MOOC provider created by MIT and Harvard, for instance, put the optimal length for lecturelets at 6 to 9 minutes. Median viewing time, where half the students watch the entire clip, peaks at 6 minutes, then falls rapidly. The edX data also reveal that mixing talking heads with computer screenshots or slides is more engaging than screenshots with voice- overs.

Plan Every Move

MOOCs require "a huge amount of work," says UC Davis' Owens, who devotes two full days preparing each 60- to 90-minute lecture. To maximize his instruction time, he writes eight pages covering not only exactly what he will say, including jokes, but what he will draw. It takes eight hours to record the lecture, stopping, starting, and rewriting as necessary. The editing crew needs 32 hours to synchronize the audio, screencasts, and video into a complete lecture. Online education veteran Autar Kaw, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of South Florida, estimates that it takes five to 10 hours to produce each hourlong lecture video beyond the time needed to develop textbooks, simulations, and real-world problems.

"It can be overwhelming," agrees Georgia Tech's Whiteman. "Focus on clear, precise delivery of basic concepts," he recommends, but "don't dumb down the material." His course isn't "statics for dummies."

Production Values Count

"Do not do it all by yourself," says Kaw. "That is a simple recipe to give up making a MOOC." Get all the technical help you can, and let others produce the videos and type the textbook. Even without glitzy graphics, online courses require high-quality sound studios, video editors, and programmers. Lighting must be adjusted and microphone wires hidden. "This would be impossible to do on my own to this level of quality," says Whiteman, who goes through dry runs before taping several modules at a stretch in the campus studio. To simulate the classroom experience, he reviews the script with the tech crew, noting where the lug wrench, cherry-picker truck, or other physical example will sit on his desk and when he will refer to them. He also meets twice a week with a graduate teaching assistant to review all materials before uploading them at the beginning of each week. Still, he admits, "it's really weird at first to talk to the camera and no students are around."

While few MOOC stars undergo media training or use TV makeup – "It would not have done any good anyway!" jokes Autar Kaw – most develop stage techniques that improve engagement and streamline production. Kaw practices "like crazy." He makes sure to wear dark solids and ties that are light orange, green, or blue. "Avoid stripes and very shiny clothes at all costs," he warns. John Owens tapes a sticky note that exhorts "Energy" above the camera to keep him as animated on screen as he is in class. "You really have to crank it up," he says, noting that his online students mostly see his hand sketching "crummy" drawings while he talks. "As far as the students in the class know, I could be a robot above the elbow," he joked on his blog.

Mix It Up with Students

Although they lack the give-and-take of live classrooms, MOOCs can engage students. Whiteman, for example, includes as many visual examples as possible to explain concepts, from brandishing a lug wrench to displaying a 3-D model of the x, y, and z axis along with the mathematics of calculating force equilibrium. He pauses every few minutes to have students reflect on a question, starting in Module 1 by asking them to jot down the difference between engineers and scientists. (His answer, drawn from aeronautical engineer Theodore von Karman: The scientist describes what is, the engineer creates what never was.)

Autar Kaw recommends presenting materials in different forms and letting students express themselves in multiple ways. "I know students are engaged when they ask me questions via YouTube and email." Owens promotes interactivity by joining his students' "lively" online discussions, posting hundreds of comments. An experienced MOOC instructor advised him to wait an hour before jumping in when a student posts a question. Chances are another student will have provided the answer, freeing Owens to respond to the hardest, most interesting questions.

Amy Schmitz Weiss, an associate professor of journalism at San Diego State University who co-taught a MOOC on data-driven reporting, urges instructors to state up front how quickly they will respond to inquiries; send a welcome message at the beginning and end of each week; and provide multiple ways to participate, including using social media; and consider holding virtual live chats. Above all, she says, review forum postings, and participate in the discussions.

Occasionally, "vocal jerks" hiding behind fake email addresses can wax rude and crude in the discussion threads. "Don't let their behavior get you down," stresses Armando Fox, "and don't let it sour the experience for the vast majority of students."

Recruit Student TAs

Fox, who has co-taught software engineering courses on Coursera and edX, notes that the "cross-cultural, cross-time-zone reach of MOOCs obliterates" the normal rhythms of sleep, exams, and holidays, making it hard for professors to check forums and post frequently. Moreover, MOOCs don't have formal office hours. To keep abreast of traffic and help students enrolled in his first MOOC offering, Fox had undergraduates who had done well in the on-campus course monitor online forums. Subsequently, he recruited "World TAs" from the highest-scoring MOOC students and deputized an undergraduate to serve as head TA and organize them using a Google Group mailing list. Result: Nearly 24/7 global coverage by multilingual students, "and we get to have a life," reports Fox.

Embrace Online Assessments

Though "not fond" of multiple-choice tests, Whiteman finds "they work well in the MOOC environment." Besides, he adds, "there's no way I could grade 4,000 exams!" Beyond generating "tons of data," online quizzes are graded automatically, providing rapid feedback to students and instructors. An uproar ensued, for instance, after students discovered a wrong answer in Whiteman's first quiz. He quickly regraded and gave credit, but "it was high adventure for a few hours." Some MOOCs have a peer-grading option, but the system seems impractical when capabilities range from elementary to graduate students.

Cheating remains a concern, since instructors have no way to know if the person taking a quiz is copying answers or is even the genuine registrant. However, MOOC providers are developing signature-tracking certification and other methods to verify identity. Online proctoring services also are springing up. In addition, the barriers to hands-on labs are falling with the incorporation of smartphones and other technology.

So far, many MOOC pioneers find their investment yields dividends for their on-campus students. "It's another resource," says Whiteman, who has had undergraduates taking a Georgia Tech statics course and using his MOOC at the same time. Autograding frees up TAs to spend more quality time for Fox's on-campus students, while breaking classroom lectures into short lecturelets has made them "livelier and better-attended." Fox reports that ratings for both his teaching and the on-campus course went up when MOOC technology was integrated.

After more than a decade of online teaching, USF's Kaw still prefers the "social experience" of the traditional classroom but says it's like choosing between going to the movies and watching Netflix: "I like both." MOOCs clearly are shaking up the status quo, promising to transform engineering teaching and learning. Says Georgia Tech's Whiteman: "Like it or not, the train is moving, so you might as well get on it and be part of where it's going."




Beyond Hands-On

Virginia Democrat Mark Warner

Some active-learning methods are more effective than others

By Muhsin Menekse, Glenda S. Stump, Stephen Krause and Michelene T. H. Chi

The relationship between instructional methods and student learning has been a central research topic in higher education for decades. Though many studies have shown that student-centered active learning methods are more effective than traditional lectures in helping students understand complex science and engineering topics, some studies have found no difference or even an opposite effect. These discrepancies can be explained by the variability in scope of active-learning methods; generally the term "active learning" is used for a wide variety of classroom activities. However, treating all classroom activities as engaging students in the same way ignores the specific cognitive processes associated with each type of activity. Without a comprehensive framework to classify active-learning methods, it is difficult to compare their value. Consequently, educators and administrators may underestimate the potential benefits of different active-learning methods.

To address the lack of such a framework, Michelene T. H. Chi (2009) proposed the Differentiated Overt Learning Activities (DOLA) framework, which divides active-learning methods into three modes — active, constructive, or interactive — depending on the students' overt engagement in them. Activities designed as active should involve learners in hands-on manipulation of learning materials. Constructive activities are expected to facilitate the generation of new ideas beyond those directly presented, while interactive activities typically should generate ideas that build on each other, but only when all students contribute substantial intellectual effort in collaborative settings.

Based on the hypothesized cognitive processes corresponding to each mode of activity, Chi reviewed and reinterpreted experimental studies in the learning sciences literature. She hypothesized that interactive activities are generally more effective than constructive activities, which in turn are better than active activities. All three modes are better than passive methods in promoting students' learning. Chi called this relationship the Interactive > Constructive > Active > Passive (ICAP) hypothesis.

In our study, we tested the ICAP hypothesis in an engineering context. We collected data from an actual classroom setting and from a controlled experiment to compare students' knowledge and conceptual understanding of materials science and engineering concepts after they completed learning activities using each mode of active learning.

To assess student learning, Nephrotex contains entrance and exit interviews given on the first and last days of the internship. The simulation also records students' actions and interactions throughout the internship. Our paper reported on the learning outcomes of 45 first-year students who participated in Nephrotex during one semester. The survey results demonstrate that virtual internships significantly increase engineering content learning. Students had an overall mean score of 39 percent (SD = 24 percent) correctly answered pre-survey content questions and 69 percent (SD = 22 percent) correctly answered post-survey content questions (p < 0.05). Furthermore, students showed statistically significant gains in understanding of both general concepts, such as experimental design, and specific concepts, such as strategies to prevent membrane fouling.

Results from the classroom provided support for the ICAP hypothesis when the DOLA framework was used to structure learning activities. The positive results held despite such confounding factors as differences in the level of student participation in the interactive activities and differences in time on task during the learning activities. By comparing all active-learning modes in a controlled environment, we reduced these confounds significantly. The results provided strong support for the part of the ICAP hypothesis that posits that interactive activities enhance learning better than constructive activities. Our results showed that when students engaged in joint dialogue and constructed knowledge collaboratively, they not only generated knowledge on their own but further benefited from their partners' feedback and contributions. Constructive activities enhance learning better than active activities because they allow students to generate new knowledge and revise misunderstandings. Finally, active activities are more effective than passive ones; manipulating the learning materials allows students to activate relevant knowledge and assimilate new information to fill knowledge gaps. Passive activities may store new information only infrequently.

A thorough understanding of core concepts in materials science and engineering provides a significant intellectual challenge for students. They must comprehend the relationships between the macroscale properties of materials and their nano-, micro-, or macroscale structures, and undertake complex cognitive processes such as decision making, spatial reasoning, knowledge construction, and integration. Our results show that DOLA can guide the design of learning materials and activities that promote development of these higher-order skills.

Muhsin Menekse is a research scientist at the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center. Glenda S. Stump is an associate director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Teaching and Learning Laboratory. Stephen Krause is a professor of materials science and engineering at Arizona State University, where Michelene T. H. Chi is a professor of psychology and director of the Learning Sciences Institute. Adapted from "Differentiated Overt Learning Activities for Effective Instruction in Engineering Classrooms" in the July 2013 Journal of Engineering Education. Supported by NSF grant 0935235 and Institute of Education Sciences grant 943360412.





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VII. Webinars for Engineering Educators

Maplesoft Webinar: Advanced Online Testing Solutions in a Freshman Engineering Computation Lab

This webinar presents a detailed case study of how Dr. Bruce Char and his colleagues at Drexel University overcame the challenge of effectively testing and assessing ~900 students/year using advanced technology solutions in a freshman engineering computation lab.

To register, go to





Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"

TRANSFORMING UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION IN ENGINEERING (TUEE) is a series of ASEE-launched meetings "to develop a new strategy for undergraduate engineering education that meets the needs of industry in the 21st century." Supported by the National Science Foundation, it's envisioned as a four-phase, multi-year sequence "that ultimately will produce a flexible framework for transforming the undergraduate engineering experience." Read a report on the first meeting, Phase I: Synthesizing and Integrating Industry Perspectives.


The ASEE 2014 Zone 1 Conference is accepting Professional Papers, Student Papers and Student Posters. Prospective authors are invited to submit full papers or posters electronically through the Conference website at The Conference will also host panels, workshops, tutorials, industry exhibits, and will feature several prominent speakers. For more details about the conference schedule and for questions about participating in the conference events, please visit the conference site orsend an e-mail to


The 2014 ASEE Zone IV conference will be hosted by the College of Engineering, California State University, Long Beach on April 24-26, 2014 in Long Beach, CA. The conference theme this year is "Student Success Is Our Success: Developing diverse engineers for a changing world through engineering pedagogy & practice." Any questions regarding the conference can be directed to the host conference co-chairs Lily Gossage or Nim Marayong at

Request for Article Submissions

Engineering faculty are invited to submit papers to a special issue of the Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education on "multidisciplinary and collaborative education." Submissions are sought that not only explore boundary spanning initiatives within the domain of business, but that involve other domains such as engineering, health sciences, communication, and general education. Authors can read the guidelines here.


Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"

Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship

The SMART Scholarship Program is seeking application reviewers for the 2014 SMART Scholarship Application Evaluation Panel to be held online in January 2014. If you are interested in serving please register at


Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"


In an effort to increase the number and quality of our nation's scientists and engineers, the Department of Defense will sponsor 200 students annually for up to three-years as part of the NDSEG Fellowship Program. NDSEG is a highly competitive, portable fellowship that is awarded to U.S. citizens and nationals who intend to pursue a doctoral degree in a STEM discipline. The three-year fellowship provides full tuition and mandatory fee coverage, a competitive stipend, and a health insurance allowance.

This year's deadline to apply is December 20, 2013. Visit for more information.


Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"


• Application: Accepted ON A ROLLING BASIS
• Locations include: participating Naval Research Laboratories (NRL) located in Washington, DC, Stennis Space Center, MS, and Monterrey, CA.
• One to three year postdoctoral fellowship program designed to increase the involvement of creative and highly trained scientists and engineers from academia and industry in scientific and technical areas of interest and relevance to the Navy
• Open to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents
• Offers a competitive stipend, as well as insurance, relocation, and travel allowances
• Visit to learn more about the programs and apply online


Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"


• Application: Accepted ON A ROLLING BASIS
• Locations include: Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Indian Head, MD, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego, CA, and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Newport, RI.
• One to three year postdoctoral fellowship program designed to increase the involvement of creative and highly trained scientists and engineers from academia and industry in scientific and technical areas of interest and relevance to the Navy.
• Open to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents
• Offers a competitive stipend, as well as insurance, relocation, and travel allowances
• Visit to learn more about the programs and apply online


Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"


The online application process opened in October 2012 for the Naval Research Enterprise Internship program, a 10-week summer research opportunity for undergraduate rising sophomores, juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Interns work under the guidance of a mentor at a participating Navy laboratory. Stipends are highly competitive. Permanent residents are accepted at certain labs; otherwise, U.S. citizenship is required. Apply at:


Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"


The AF SFFP offers hands-on exposure to Air Force research challenges through eight- to twelve-week research residencies at participating Air Force research facilities for full-time science and engineering faculty at U.S.colleges and universities. For information regarding stipends, eligibility requirements, and application instructions, please visit .


Applications now being accepted for "Mapping the Field of Engineering Education Research Conference"


The Science and Engineering Apprenticeship Program (SEAP) is designed to encourage students to pursue science and engineering careers and acquaint qualified high school students with the activities of Department of Navy (DoN) Laboratories through research experiences. SEAP places academically talented high school students with interest and ability in science and mathematics as apprentices in DoN Laboratories for eight weeks during the summer and provides a generous stipend. These students work with scientists and engineers who act as mentors. To find out if you are eligible and to apply please visit, ! The application will be open until January 6, 2014.

The Army Educational Outreach Program will be accepting applications for the following summerinternship programs:

The Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science Program (GEMS) is a one-week summer program at participating Army Labs across the country. Current middle and high school students interested in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields (STEM) are eligible to apply. The GEMS program provides a travel stipend for all students who participate.






COVER: From advances in precise imaging to nano-sized robots delivering chemotherapy, engineers are partnering with medical researchers to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment.

FEATURE: Back in 2007, the Kauffman Foundation, which works on a number of fronts to advance entrepreneurship, sought to spur the transition of university research to the market. It introduced iBridge, a portal for abstracts of early-stage technologies. Now a cluster of entrepreneurs has picked up the concept and pushed it further.

TEACHING: For undergraduates, including underrepresented minorities, involvement in research can be a life-changer leading to success in engineering

UPCLOSE PROFILE: Boston University biomedical engineer (and MacArthur genius) James J. Collins.

Read the current issue of Prism magazine





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