This research paper examines students’ responses to specific types of evidence-based instructional practices (EBIP) in the engineering classroom. Researchers have long emphasized the need to improve the quality of undergraduate teaching through the use of EBIP, particularly for engineering fields. Despite research supporting the benefits of EBIP in engineering, the translation from research into practice (i.e., incorporating innovative teaching practices in the classroom) has been slow. Research on faculty decisions about their teaching practices has identified a number of barriers to the adoption of these practices, including student resistance to active learning. Concerns about student resistance, whether evidenced through formal course evaluations or expressed by students in other ways, could have a detrimental effect on instructors’ willingness to adopt EBIP. Consequently, understanding how students respond to new types of instruction and identifying ways to reduce student resistance are essential for lowering a key barrier to adoption of EBIP. One under-researched factor that may influence student resistance to EBIP is students’ prior experiences with different types of instruction. This study examines students’ responses to specific types of EBIP – including those types used most often in engineering courses – and investigates whether or not prior experiences affect the relationship between these students’ responses and the type of instruction.
The sample of courses analyzed in this study includes five gateway engineering courses at a large, public research institution in the Midwest. These courses were selected from five engineering disciplines: electrical engineering, computer science engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, and biomedical engineering. All students enrolled in one of these five courses were invited to complete two surveys: Survey 1 was administered four weeks into the semester, and Survey 2 was administered one week before final examinations. A total of 242 students completed both surveys. The survey is based on an instrument our research team has developed, validated, and used in several previous studies.
Results suggest that student participation in EBIP is context dependent, and it varies by the type of instruction used in the classroom. For example, students reported seldom finding value in discussing concepts with classmates during class, which leads to lower levels of participation in these types of activities, whereas they often found value in non-group-related activities (e.g., brainstorming different possible solutions to a given problem or answering questions posted by the instructor) or lecture-based instruction. These responses vary as characteristics of the activity differ (e.g., individual or group-based, affecting course grade or not). Furthermore, students’ prior experiences were a significant predictor of student participation in specific types of instruction (e.g., group activities). For example, if students had a positive prior experience with group work, they were more likely to approach a subsequent group activity with a positive outlook and willingness to participate in the activity, and vice-versa. The full research paper will expand upon these results as well as discuss additional findings from the broader research study.
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