The current NSF-funded project was designed to positively impact the retention of engineering majors in early career engineering courses. We build on prior work in this area through our focus on two important aspects of classroom instruction: classroom community and relevancy. In this two-year project, faculty from engineering and science education have teamed together to design, implement, and study a number of interventions related to classroom community and relevancy. As proxies for retention, we used three measures to examine specific constructs: engineering identity, engineering self-efficacy, and sense of community. In addition, we used the COPUS observational protocol to examine instructional differences between treatment and control courses.
In the first two iterations of the project, we examined the impact of micro-interventions aimed solely at increasing the students’ sense of community in the early career course. These included, for example, a focus on classroom norms, strategies to increase peer-to-peer interactions, and peer testimonials to enable discussions of the challenges faced by first-year engineering students, among others. For the third and final iteration of the project, we examined the impact of interventions aimed at both classroom community and relevancy.
Based on the findings of this study and considering the context of the research plan, we have the following concluding observations. There were important instructional differences seen between the two courses as shown by the COPUS observational data. However, the effect of these differences on the three measured constructs was inconsistent. We measured a statistically significant difference in students’ sense of community and engineering self-efficacy for the treatment section during the alpha iteration, but not during the subsequent beta or gamma iterations. Similarly, we found no significant difference in students’ change in engineering identity between the treatment and control sections, for all iterations. It is likely the instrument used to measure identity was insufficient to measure changes over the time scale of one semester.
With that said, although tenuous, our findings provide evidence that an increase in classroom climate can effect students’ engineering self-efficacy. It may be the “micro” nature of our interventions was not effective towards producing significant changes to students’ sense of community, engineering self-efficacy, or engineering identity – in a large lecture-format introductory engineering course. Or, it may be the instruments employed were not sensitive to measuring the change. Nonetheless, while inconclusive, the findings of this study are provided for practitioners who may be interested in incorporating similar pedagogies into their classroom. In addition, the findings grow the knowledge-base and are available to researchers interested in extending the results into future studies.
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