Remarkable progress has been made in the development and implementation of hands-on learning in STEM education. The mantra of See One, Do One, Teach One overly simplifies the idea but does provide a helpful structure to understand how many engineering educators are attempting to change the learning experience of our students. Until recently, this effort has been faced with a major limitation. We can easily incorporate traditional paper and pencil and numerical analysis, synthesis, and simulation in our classrooms. However, the remaining key aspect of doing the job of an engineer – experimentation – has only been included through the use of expensive and limited-access lab facilities. Small, low-cost Mobile Hands-On STEM (MHOS) learning platforms (e.g., myDAQ, Analog Discovery, and Circuit Gear Mini) provide almost unlimited opportunities to solve this remaining problem in engineering courses. Pedagogy based on these tools has been implemented and studied in several institutions in the US and in other countries, impacting thousands of students each year. In all cases in which hands-on learning has been studied, the pedagogy has been successfully implemented. This has occurred even in traditionally theory-only based courses, resulting in more engaged students and instructors. Although the initial assessments of this new approach to STEM education argue for broad application, the definitive case for its adoption has yet to be documented so that all STEM educators can fully appreciate its merit.
The Center for Mobile Hands-On STEM is pursuing activities that support the following goals: (1) Gather strong evidence of the effectiveness of Mobile Hands-On STEM (MHOS) pedagogy on student learning. (2) Develop an effective and pro-active dissemination strategy for the entire STEM educational community.
To achieve these goals, we have recently focused on: (1) Creating and implementing new standardized assessment tools that measure student learning, especially through the development of new experimentally focused concept inventories, as well as measure ease of adoption by instructors. (2) Identifying implementation barriers for wide-spread adoption and how these might be overcome by applying the business start-up methodology of the NSF I-Corps program, working with faculty who have recently received funding to implement the mobile pedagogy, and holding focus groups among different constituencies.
Both of these general areas of activity represent works-in-progress. In the former we are investigating formulations of concepts and possible learning and assessment activities and collecting data on their effectiveness. We identify three objectives of Hands-On instruction, 1) to apply instrumentation to make measurements of physical quantities, 2) to identify limitations of models to predict of real-world behavior, and 3) to develop an experimental approach to characterize and explain the world. We have consulted with experts to develop a list of common misconceptions students display in laboratory instruction. A unique feature in testing Hands-On concepts is that laboratory skills are inextricably tied to analytical concepts and therefore both analytical and hands-on concepts have to be tested in order to distinguish the root cause of the misunderstanding. Based on these common misconceptions, test questions are being developed and data is being collected on their effectiveness to assess learning. Feedback from faculty and students interested in MOHS pedagogy is being solicited. For the latter, we have had a group of our colleagues go through I-Corps training as part of a pilot program to determine whether the I-Corps model could be used to expand the impact of educational research. Strong collaborative relationships have been developed with new groups who are aggressively implementing similar pedagogy throughout all of their engineering programs. Finally, we will be hosting a series of online practitioners’ workshops rather than the usual physical face-to-face workshop, because of the potential for wider and longer term impact. The workshops will engage leaders in various aspects of hands-on learning who will develop videos that address issues associated with adoption and sustainability, key areas within engineering curricula and time into degree where students gain significantly by engaging in active learning to facilitate learning, a review of the models of adoption, etc. An exemplar video is being created for use as a guide for those who will be asked to develop videos on specific topics related to hands-on learning and as the video associated with the first online workshop.
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