A majority of incoming engineering students have little experience in engineering research and are reluctant to spend the time needed to find good quality information. Their strong reliance on Google results in generally poor quality sources and mediocre assignment submissions at best. In Fall 2019, while working with beginning engineering students, we realized we had an opportunity to help them become better questioners and thus better researchers by focusing on engineering research skills. One comprehensive two-part assignment, designed to introduce them to technology innovation and research requires students to read and summarize one article in part I and find additional articles of similar quality where the author disagrees or expands their thinking about potential problems in part II. They must focus on potential problems or issues in contrast to the benefits of technology and suggest possible future research directions. Most students summarized their reading but had difficulty articulating outstanding questions for future study. Thus our goal was to sharpen students’ ability to identify the research question in a study or report, as well as ask better questions themselves. This semester, we enhanced the assignment to address this particular weakness. Librarians who partnered with the instructor on this activity were familiar with the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) introduced by the Right Question Institute. They brought this mini-curriculum to the classroom in a Fundamentals of Engineering class for freshmen at our mid-sized technology university. Students heard from the librarian and also had access to a specially designed web-portal with information on QFT and additional resources related to conducting quality research in general, and their engineering research assignment in particular. Student satisfaction with the session and the portal was high. Their research reports, due in the coming weeks, will be scored on various research skills as in the previous terms, with the addition of a rubric to measure students’ ability to formulate questions. Student submissions and performance from this semester will be compared with student data in the past 3-4 semesters when the QFT technique was not utilized. Preliminary results on the impact on their work will be analyzed at the end of the Fall 2019 semester and updates will be made, if necessary, for the Spring 2020 semester.
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