Keywords: Engineering education, soft skills, project-based learning, active learning
1 MOTIVATION AND PROBLEM BACKGROUND.
This complete evidence-based practice paper describes the pedagogical redesign process of an introductory physics course for first-year engineering students at Universidad Panamericana, and the experience of professors that applied problem and project-based learning methodologies.
Teaching and learning concepts and approaches in higher education are experiencing dramatic transformations due to contextual changes in recent years. Contemporary teaching models are student-centered, and based on active learning, technology, and social media integration. Engineering education research has grown exponentially and even though there is vast evidence of how different teaching practices can improve learning, professors still face a lot of barriers to include them in their practice. Adequate transfer of conceptual knowledge to problem solving requires appropriate pedagogies that ensure student engagement in the learning process.
Quality of instruction and pre-college preparation are key for student success in STEM courses, and therefore, in the decision of students to stay in their programs (Chen & Soldner, 2013,). In Mexico, according to ANFEI (National Association of Colleges and Schools of Engineering), only 40% of engineering students graduate on time. First-year course are easy for some students, but represent a big challenge for others, who frequently do not succeed (Vargas Leyva & Jiménez Hernández, 2015). In addition, research has shown that student's prior mathematics and physics training, as well as their academic attitude, influence their decision to stay in STEM majors (Astin, 1993).
Besides, since 2010, Universidad Panamericana has deployed a series of strategies to help students strengthen the professional skills. These strategies include skills ABET proposed for engineering graduates, such as multidisciplinary teamwork, critical thinking, and effective communication. Nevertheless, there is still a significant gap between the skills engineering graduates need to succeed in the workplace and those developed through college experience.
To address the previous concerns, the Center for Innovation in Education was invited to collaborate with the College of Engineering at Universidad Panamericana to redesign an introductory physics course. Problem and Project-based Learning (PBL) methodologies were chosen to teach the course and strategies to develop students’ soft skills were included. The course was taught in the fall of 2017.
This paper is divided into two parts. In the first part we describe the redesign process that the Center for Innovation in Education followed in collaboration with three engineering faculty members teaching the course. The second part we present the experiences of the eight professors that taught the redesigned course.
The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of faculty members that taught an introductory physics course. The course was redesigned to improve retention and to develop students’ soft skills through Problem and Project Based Learning.
A focus group was conducted with the eight professors teaching all sections of the class seeking to understand their experiences on teaching through student-centered and active learning approaches. During the focus group interviews, facilitators started by describing the purpose of the study and assuring confidentiality. An interview guide was used, with a set of questions about professor’s experiences with projects, students, learning activities and evaluation methods. The semi-structured interview guide allowed to prioritize the questions and help with the conversation flow. The interviews were audio recorded and transcribed for analysis.
Qualitative data analysis is primarily inductive and comparative. We chose a basic qualitative research approach described by Merriam and Tisdell (2016) as a simple way to understand a phenomenon and the perspectives of the people involved. We used a constant comparative method of analysis which consists of identifying units of information, and compare them to determine similarities; recurring patterns are then grouped into categories, and relationships between these categories are identified (Creswell, 2003).
Preliminary results describe professors’ experiences teaching the course and how they were able to relate theory with the practice of engineering. They also shared how they perceived advancements on students’ soft skills such as teamwork, effective communication, creativity, and problem-solving among others. Faculty members described how they learned to give effective feedback on student presentations.
Professor’s main concerns focus on how to properly evaluate soft skills, and how to properly balance peer evaluation results, soft skills, and academic content evaluations. Learning activities designed for active learning and soft skills development take more class time than traditional approaches. Thus, being able to cover the complete class syllabus was a constant concern for faculty.
Astin, A. (January, 1993). What matters in college: Four critical years revisited. The Journal of higher Education. 22 (8).
Chen, X., & Soldner, M. (2013). STEM Attrition: College students’ path into and out of STEM fields (NCES 2014-001). Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014001rev.pdf Cheryan, S., Master, A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2015).
Creswell, J.C. (2003). Educational research. Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.
Merriam, S. & Tisdell E. (2016). Qualitative research. A guide to design and implementation. 4th Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Vargas Leyva, M.R. y Jiménez Hernández, M.E. (Julio-Dic, 2015 ). Programas acreditados y estrategias de titulación. Revista Electrónica ANFEI Digital. (2) 3.
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