Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Education Ed Berger admits there are some parts of his job he loves more than others.
Working with students and studying ways to be a more effective educator would be two areas high on a list of his likes. Grading papers and exams, he admits, would be somewhat lower.
But Berger says he has found a way to reduce the time he spends grading through the use of an online grading platform called Gradescope, which allows instructors to grade papers online efficiently and accurately.
This fall, Purdue began a pilot program to offer Gradescope to instructors and faculty interested in joining a spring pilot program are encouraged to learn more by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Faculty are also invited to learn more about Gradescope by attending the next Tech Today event on Friday, Nov. 3.
Engineering education researchers have developed a method to assess the effectiveness of instructors who are using an innovative teaching approach that could play a role in boosting the number and quality of engineering graduates.
The Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom allows students in challenging engineering courses to access hundreds of instructional videos and animations while encouraging interaction with each other and faculty online. The approach is helping sophomore-level students overcome daunting challenges in core engineering courses. However, engineering education researchers need a scientific method to assess how well instructors are using the Freeform Classroom. A new assessment method is detailed in a research paper being presented during the American Society for Engineering Education’s 124th Annual Conference & Exposition, June 25 – 28 in Columbus, Ohio. The paper, entitled “What Does a Class Meeting Entail?” won the ASEE Mechanics Division Best Paper Award…
Purdue University has launched a center to better transition mechanical engineering students to the work force. The Mechanical Engineering Education Research Center at Purdue, or MEERCat Purdue, will create a research consortium with industry partners that focuses on the transition.
The university says the center will leverage $6 million of federally-funded research in collaboration with faculty from the Purdue’s School of Engineering Education and the School of Mechanical Engineering. Executive Director Edward Berger, associate professor of engineering education and mechanical engineering, says the center “gives a powerful identity to the basic research and research-to-practice projects we’re working on to improve student outcomes and professional formation.”
“This is a first-of-its-kind research consortium that focuses on the massively important challenge of the school-to-workforce transition,” said Berger. “Everyone stands to gain from improvements in this process: students enter organizations in which they can thrive as people and continue to develop as engineers; employers train and support happy and productive engineers who persist with their organization and grow into leaders.”
The university says research based at MEERCat Purdue will include work related to the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom, which gives engineering students access to instructional videos and animations. It will also include work related to the Purdue RED initiative.
“We already know our students are incredibly strong technically, but we want to make sure they’re also building communication, leadership and entrepreneurial skills so they’re ready for success on day one,” said Angela Goldstein, managing director of MEERCat Purdue. “RED and Freeform are both iterative initiatives where we’re taking what we’re learning and directly applying changes both in and outside the classroom to impact our students’ holistic learning environment.”
You can learn more about MEERCat Purdue in the video below:
Since he began using Gradescope, an online grading application, Ed Berger says he has reduced the amount of time he spends grading about 30 percent.
But that efficiency says Berger, an associate professor of both Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Education, isn’t even the best part. Gradescope has improved the way he grades.
“Gradescope allows me to define and apply really detailed rubrics effectively,” Berger says, “which I’ve found to be even more useful than the time savings, which alone is tremendous.”
Faculty and instructors are invited to learn more about Gradescope during the June 13 Tech Today event in Grissom Hall, Room 102. A light lunch will be provided along with a presentation about using Solstice Pod technology – a way to connect devices wirelessly in the classroom. Space is limited and registration is recommended.
Gradescope allows students or instructors to upload assignments to its online platform, and instructors then grade assignments using a tablet PC and an internet connection. The platform lets instructors create a well-defined grading rubric to identify errors, and provides a detailed analysis of where students did well and where they struggled.
The streamlined process alone – no flipping pages, no stacks of exams to sort through – greatly improves grading efficiency, says Berger.
“Where before it would have taken 15 hours to grade all of my exams, I can now do it in about 10,” Berger says. “And I’ve heard from others who say they’ve reduced their time spent grading by up to 50 percent, depending upon the kind of assignment they’re grading.”
ITaP’s Teaching and Learning Technologies team is looking for instructors interested in piloting Gradescope in their courses for the fall semester. Anyone interested in using Gradescope can attend the June 13 event or send an email to email@example.com.
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.
A team at Purdue University is researching the role that a collection of innovative education techniques known as the ‘freeform classroom’ has played in reducing by half the number of struggling students in a sophomore dynamics course and how scalable those techniques are to different academic institutions.
The team is led by Jennifer DeBoer, Ph.D., an assistant professor of engineering education at Purdue. DeBoer joined the faculty at Purdue in 2014, just as Charles Krousgrill, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Rhoads, Ph.D., both professors of mechanical engineering, were publishing the promising results of early work with the freeform classroom, which integrates blogs, workbooks, and streamlined textbooks to better reach today’s “digital native” students.
The results are encouraging. In one dynamics course typically taken by sophomores in the spring semester, the rate of students earning a D or an F or withdrawing from the course—known in education parlance as DFW—was reduced from approximately 20 percent to about 10 percent. When DeBoer learned of the results, she sought out Krousgrill and Rhoads.
“I said, if this is what you are seeing, we should study this. Let’s make sure that this is indeed a trend that can be empirically supported. Then let’s dig further to see what’s going on and who’s benefitting,” DeBoer recalls.
The freeform classroom incorporates what are known in academia as active, blended, and collaborative (ABC) techniques: active learning with students as participants, blended online and classroom resources, and collaboration between students. “Each of these, taken separately, has become more and more common in some, but not all, university classrooms. But we don’t often see all three of these elements—which we know could and should be beneficial—in combination,” DeBoer says. “It’s even more rare that we see them in something like a sophomore-year engineering class, where you typically get a very traditional, very theoretical [course] with an overwhelming amount of information for students.”
The sophomore year has become critical for engineering students, DeBoer notes. It’s when the more holistic, engaging, interactive courses of freshman year have ended, replaced with the more dense, lecture-based courses in which some students struggle. Many students drop their dreams of becoming an engineer at this point.
The team that is investigating the new methodology, which includes DeBoer, Rhoads, and Edward Berger, an associate professor of engineering education and of mechanical engineering at Purdue, is focusing its research on what role the freeform classroom has played in improvements at that university, whether it has helped certain students more than others, and how adaptable and scalable it is outside of large research universities. “We have seen a precipitous drop in the DFW rate. But we needed to rigorously ascertain that it was really because of the implementation and growth of freeform,” DeBoer says. “In those same years that we saw freeform rolled out, students coming into Purdue had higher and higher admission test scores. And, in fact, students coming into [the dynamics course] had higher and higher performance in their [previous] courses at Purdue.”
Although the researchers are still teasing out all of the various factors that can affect student performance, it appears that the innovative approach to learning accounts for a significant proportion of the improvement in student performance and retention. “Even controlling for [the fact that] student performance in prior courses [was] improving, we saw that over the years, the DFW rate was still getting better as freeform was being rolled out and becoming the standard,” DeBoer says.
To answer the question of how scalable and adaptable the approach is to other institutions, Purdue is working with Trine University and Purdue University Northwest-Calumet Campus (PNW). Trine University focuses heavily on its teaching methods, placing a premium on small class sizes and a close relationship between professors and students. PNW, located outside of Chicago, serves a heavily nontraditional, commuter student population.
“By partnering with these institutions, [which] are still within Indiana but have diverse institutional missions and different student cohorts, we are able to really start to understand what the freeform environment looks like in different settings,” DeBoer says.
So far, the results are encouraging. The team recently presented research papers at the American Society of Engineering Education’s 123 rdAnnual Conference & Exposition in New Orleans. The research indicates that the freeform classroom’s ABC techniques work well at Trine, reducing DFW rates.
“One of the big challenges in going to these other institutions is there is a different culture. There are variations in terms of the instructor’s understanding of their role, their own typical practices, and how they adjust to this new environment,” DeBoer says.
“One of the things that really stood out was that it seems that the [freeform] environment itself helps to standardize or support the instructors who are enacting it,” she adds. “For us, the null result of not having [performance] differences between instructors who have highly varying backgrounds and practices seemed to indicate that [freeform] is an environment that helps mitigate those differences.”
Purdue will continue the research at Trine and PNW in the coming years and plans to soon add two international universities to this four-year research project, which is funded with a $1.4-million grant from the National Science Foundation.
New research aims to measure the effectiveness of a teaching approach that allows students in challenging engineering courses to access hundreds of instructional videos and animations while encouraging interaction with each other and faculty online.
The system, called the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom, might help answer a national call by the U.S. Council on Jobs and Competitiveness to increase the number of engineering graduates by 10,000 annually.
“There is a need for more engineers in terms of quantity, but also in terms of quality,” said Jennifer DeBoer, an assistant professor of engineering education who is leading the research. “Graduates need to have the ability to collaborate and to be part of a cohesive and productive group.”
The Freeform Classroom could play a role in boosting the number and quality of engineering graduates, in part by helping sophomore-level students overcome daunting challenges in core engineering courses.
“The phrase sophomore slump has come into engineering education parlance,” DeBoer said.
The research was detailed in three papers that were presented during the American Society for Engineering Education’s Annual Conference & Exposition in June in New Orleans. Purdue faculty and students presented about 90 papers at the conference.
Edward Berger, a Purdue associate professor of engineering education and mechanical engineering, said students may find sophomore-level classes especially trying and are at greater risk of failing or withdrawing than at other times in their academic careers.
“Retention of engineering undergraduates, in particular during the sophomore and junior years, is a major national concern,” Berger said. “They are taking courses like statics and dynamics and thermodynamics, and the intensity and workload are just very high.”
The research is part of a project funded over four years with a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation and led by DeBoer, Berger and Jeffrey Rhoads, an associate professor of mechanical engineering.
The Freeform Classroom approach has been used since 2009 to teach a sophomore-level dynamics course and was pioneered by Charles Krousgrill, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering. He and Rhoads have expanded and led efforts to refine and implement the Freeform Classroom for dynamics, a key introductory course focusing on engineering systems in motion. Since introducing the Freeform Classroom the number of students receiving a D, F or who withdrew from the course has steadily decreased, going from 22 percent to around 10 percent.
“We don’t know for sure that it’s just the Freeform piece that’s causing this improvement,” DeBoer said. “There are a lot of other facets, so we need to be able to say whether it’s the Freeform environment that’s causing this. And if so, what is it about the Freeform environment? Is it the way in which students engage with the environment and their level of engagement? Is it other characteristics of this Freeform environment that have been added over the years?”
The Freeform classroom applies “active, blended and collaborative” (ABC) learning, in which students talk to each other or to the instructor either face-to-face or on a course blog and use various online materials while collaborating to solve problems.
“You rarely see all three of these ABC parts combined in a single classroom, and I don’t know of any other examples in sophomore-level engineering courses,” DeBoer said.
As part of the research, the Freeform Classroom has been used at Trine University in northeastern Indiana and will be used at the Purdue University Northwest campus this summer. One goal of the research is to understand how students in different institutions respond to and experience the Freeform Classroom.
“Purdue West Lafayette is a big research-intensive institution where this was developed, but Trine is a very different kind of place,” she said. “The ethos is very different. The class size is much smaller, the whole institutional environment, the nature of the relationships between the faculty and students, is much different.”
The researchers used a “dynamics concept inventory” method to survey the students using a series of multiple-choice questions designed to show whether they understand the fundamental concepts behind dynamics principles.
“We believe we can use this instrument or measurement tool as a really good way of understanding whether students are increasing their conceptual understanding through this class,” DeBoer said.
Students and faculty are being interviewed to help shed light on their experiences in the Freeform Classroom. For instance, nine students were interviewed out of about 30 in the Trine University dynamics class, and results based on those data will appear in future publications.
“We are still processing that information, but I think those interviews will also help us understand what their experience was,” Berger said. “The Freeform environment was very different from all of their other classes. We are trying to understand at some baseline level whether they liked it and if it helped them learn the material, and what their challenges and frustrations were.”
Trine assistant professor Maria Gerschutz, chair of biomedical engineering, is a co-author of one of the three research papers and is involved in providing feedback. She was recently named 2016 Outstanding Teacher of the Year in the Illinois-Indiana section of the American Society for Engineering Education.
The research uses reflective writing from the participants to delve into the “lived experience” of the instructor over one semester.
“We solicited reflections from Dr. Gerschutz where she was talking not only about teaching the content but whether she was frustrated by having to make sense of this new material, whether the students were excited, and the quality her own actual day-to-day experience, not just the mechanics of the class.” DeBoer said.
Future research also may study Freeform’s effectiveness in STEM fields other than mechanical engineering, in a collaboration with Purdue’s Center for Instructional Excellence.
Purdue hopes to account for about 5 percent of the national goal of producing 10,000 additional engineering graduates per year. Preparing more engineers to meet the world’s grand challenges also is part of a range of initiatives including one focusing on “transformative education” designed to broaden Purdue’s global impact and enhance educational opportunities for its students. To address the national need for more engineers Purdue is increasing the number of students and faculty in the College of Engineering by 1,500 and 107, respectively.
Information about the Freeform Classroom is available at purdue.edu/freeform. The three papers are available at these links:
New research aims to help educators quantify how the best students perform problem solving with the aid of instructional videos, a step toward learning how to better coach students in difficult engineering curricula.
The research features a new experimental format that uses data from a system that tracks students’ “eye gaze” with cameras, also documenting individual problem-solving methods with “smartpens” that record handwriting and audio. Unlike previous research, the new approach defines the order in which a student performs specific actions, which could be crucial to the success of problem-solving methods, said Edward Berger, a Purdue University associate professor of engineering education and mechanical engineering.
Twenty-four students participated in the study.
“We give them a problem to solve, and we record their actions as they engage with the video,” he said. “Everybody in the world makes instructional videos now. But what we don’t currently understand is exactly how students use videos in support of their problem solving. So we watch them use a video while they solve a problem, which has not been done before in any significant depth.”
The results suggest that students’ problem-solving methods can be broadly described by several “archetypes.”
“If we can identify which archetypes are more successful, then we can apply that knowledge to better coach students,” Berger said. “We can say, here is the pattern of usage we see in students who are really good at solving this type of problem.”
The research is detailed in a paper being presented during the American Society for Engineering Education’s Annual Conference & Exposition, June 26-29 in New Orleans. The paper was authored by Berger and doctoral student Michael Wilson.
The students were graded on the problem, and their grades also were recorded during a sophomore-level mechanical engineering course that allows students to access hundreds of instructional videos and animations.
The experiment takes about 30 minutes to complete.
“We have a code structure to characterize various actions and quantify exactly what the student is doing,” Berger said. “These actions could be something they write, something they do with the video and even something they say because we instruct the students to speak out loud during the exercise. We are identifying and trying to understand these archetypes.”
Among the 24 students, the researchers have identified about four such archetypes thus far.
“Say they took 25 minutes to do this problem, they spent eight minutes looking at the video, and here is exactly what they were looking at in the video while they solved the problem. Did they watch the same part of the video more than once? Did they focus on a diagram or the equation, or something else? Then we look at all of the data and say, ‘what are the key things they did when they were solving this problem and how did they engage with the video? ‘ ”
The actions are then charted using a system of “code stripes” to visualize the specific approaches and tools students used to solve the problem, and in what order.
The experiments are related to an area of research called cognitive load theory, which attempts to break down how hard the brain is working at a particular task.
“The challenge is that it’s really hard to accurately measure cognitive load, and we are using one of several available approaches,” Berger said. “We are trying to understand how access to a video helps a student solve problems. Does it help them manage their cognitive load while they are doing the problem?”
Future work will aim to conclusively define the various archetypes.
Purdue researchers also are conducting a new project funded by the National Science Foundation to understand how students use the videos in the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom, pioneered by Charles Krousgrill, a professor of mechanical engineering. The Freeform Classroom approach has been used since 2011 in two mechanical engineering core courses with hundreds of students enrolled annually. The new study is led by Jennifer DeBoer, an assistant professor of engineering education.