(326c) “Do I Need to Know This for the Exam?” Shifting Students’ Engagement Towards Professional Practice

Koretsky, M. D., Oregon State University
Some have mused that if Rip van Winkle were to wake up today, the only thing that would look familiar is the educational system. That may not be entirely true. There has been emphasis recently in transitioning chemical engineering classroom instruction from transmission-based lectures to active learning. However, even in active learning classrooms, it is not uncommon to find students who do well on exams but cannot operationalize that same material in a practical project. Conversely, in our research, we have observed students who have performed poorly in the traditional classroom but excel in team activities that position them as engineers undertaking meaningful tasks. These observations raise a fundamental question about student engagement in the active learning classroom: Engagement to what end? We design engaged instruction to shift students from “doing school” to acting like professional engineers, and have developed supporting technology that draws students into cooperative and critical participation, instead of sequestering them in front of computer screens. In these learning environments, student interactions with one another and with instructors reflect the professional engineering workplace in which identifying and solving problems is a collaborative process that requires use of engineering principles in a dynamic sense-making environment. Importantly, providing space for students to share multiple perspectives and bring their own valued real world experiences creates opportunity for a more inclusive classroom. My presentation examines “reasoning episodes” in which students working in teams collaboratively argue from evidence, construct explanations, and formulate and revise models as they design processes. We argue that such real-world learning environments best enable students to develop more connected conceptual understanding as well as develop needed professional skills to better prepare them to meet the engineering challenges and civic responsibilities of the 21st century.