The Freeform Project

The project’s broad goals are to better understand (a) the student experience in using ABC tools and classroom structures, (b) the ways in which student engagement and performance are mediated by individual characteristics of the faculty, discipline, and institution, and (c) the way Freeform operates in the context of students’ and faculties’ other courses. Using an iterative process of research and implementation, the project team tests the Freeform framework in its most mature implementation, in other mechanical engineering disciplines, and in courses at Trine University, a small private post-secondary institution, and Purdue University-Calumet, a regional campus with larger populations of non-traditional and part-time students.

We pursue five essential research questions:

  1. What patterns of engagement with Freeform learning materials do we observe, and to what extent do students' usage patterns explain performance?
  2. Are there significant differences in engagement by student background factors? Does student background mediate the relationship between engagement and performance?
  3. What affective, attitudinal, and emotional perceptions of the Freeform environment can we observe from students and faculty, and how do these perceptions compare to those of more traditionally-structured classes?
  4. To what extent do the blended and collaborative components of Freeform foster a sense of social agency or community among students?
  5. What role do group-level factors (instructor, discipline, institution) play in the relationship between student engagement and academic performance?


Data Collection and Analysis
Our team collects large-scale data from all students and instructors in a classroom setting, including (from students) a variety of background and attitudinal surveys, concept inventories, Freeform usage analytics, and gradebook data, and (from instructors) attitudinal and background surveys. We use classroom observation to examine in-class dynamics among students, their peers, the instructor, and the course materials. Interviews and focus groups with a subset of students and instructors provide candid feedback about Freeform classroom experiences. Sampled students are also asked to execute task-based experiments in the laboratory in which the following data are collected: eye gaze data, clickstream time histories, and student academic work. We are working to create a study guide for students using ABC structures, open source Freeform templates for participating faculty, integrated faculty orientations for instructors new to Freeform principles, problem-solving video creation strategies for instructors, curricular recommendations for courses considering the inclusion of Freeform, and scholarly products.


Intellectual Merit & Broader Impacts
This work will provide valuable and practical insight on how to implement the Freeform framework in diverse disciplines and institutions over a sustained time period. The collaborative team of disciplinary and engineering education researchers will broadly disseminate research findings to both the engineering education research community and to interested practitioners working in mechanical engineering. The team is particularly excited about testing the Freeform framework at diverse collaborating institutions (Trine, Purdue-Northwest) that serve key underrepresented populations which are disproportionately affected by stopout. Finally, the team will facilitate implementation of the Freeform structure to other disciplines across Purdue’s campus through close collaboration with the Purdue Center for Instructional Excellence IMPACT program.