A group of three faculty and staff members from Universidad del Norte (Uninorte) in Barranquilla, Colombia, came to visit Purdue between July 17th and 23rd. Their trip was part of a collaboration with Purdue’s College of Engineering, and particularly with the Mechanics Freeform Classroom instructional innovative platform.

Freeform was born out of a national need to improve Engineering students’ outcomes, particularly in core disciplinary classes. The greatest challenges in engineering undergraduates’ performance lie in second and third year courses. Being aware of the situation, Purdue professors Chuck Krousgrill and Jeffrey Rhoads designed an innovative approach for both teachers and learners. By integrating Active learning structures, Blended learning models, and Collaborative learning opportunities (ABC), their team of researchers was able to significantly enhance achievement and retention in engineering undergraduates. Freeform Classroom is based on an advancing curriculum that uses the latest technologies available, and offers an adapting content.

Given the remarkable improvement in pass rates for core sophomore and junior mechanical engineering courses, Freeform became the object of a rigorous study. Dr. Jennifer DeBoer, who joined Purdue in 2014, wrote a grant to the National Science Foundation that still accounts for a large part of the program’s funding. Her goal is to further understand how Freeform is affecting students’ performance so positively.

In March of this year, Drs. DeBoer and Krousgrill travelled to Colombia during the Catedra Europa at Uninorte, where they offered a workshop on the implementation of Freeform.

Dr. Jorge Bris Cabrera, Associate Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Uninorte, first became interested in the Freeform Classroom platform after a presentation made by professors Krousgrill and Rhoads at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) annual meeting. Months later, Drs. Krousgrill and DeBoer offered a workshop at Uninorte, where they presented the positive results after Freeform implementation. This visit encouraged Bris Cabrera and his colleague Habib Zambrano to adopt Freeform.

Uninorte has offered institutional support to the implementation of Freeform by other faculty members. This commitment is sponsored by Uninorte’s Center for Teaching Excellence, CEDU. Blessed Ballesteros, Coordinator of the Technology Unit at CEDU, also came to visit Purdue. According to him, “CEDU’s goal is to turn the Freeform initiative into an institutional program that is generally implemented, and even to obtain funding by Colciencias. These funds could help evaluate the results of Freeform implementation at Uninorte, which would greatly contribute to Purdue’s research on the platform”.

As the program strengthened and developed, Purdue started to seek new partners in different types of educational institutions. The purpose is to evaluate how Freeform adapts to culturally diverse environments. It is in this context that Colombia has become a strategic partner for Purdue. The researchers at Uninorte are committed to Freeform Classroom implementation and evaluation on their campus in Barranquilla. Their visit is intended for them to acquire the skills needed to become research collaborators that can evaluate how the project works in their specific environment.

Colombia’s participation in Purdue’s Freeform Classroom platform has encouraged a two-way discussion on research and implementation of the program. It has also fostered the creation of a now international research project that is based on a community of practice in engineering education. Uninorte will likely become a key contributor in understanding how this successful methodology can be adapted and adopted in a different cultural environment.

Leave a Reply