This complete evidence-based practice documents the planning and implementation process used by one institution in redeveloping its first-year general engineering courses. The required two-course sequence provides an introduction to engineering knowledge and skills as well as an opportunity for over 2,000 students per year to explore the more than 15 different majors from which they can choose. In an effort to provide consistency in the student experience across individual sections of the course, instructors teach from a common course structure and general scope for content and course assessment. Nevertheless, individual instructors have the opportunity to individualize their sections of the course. Meeting the purpose of the course and functioning within a structure that supports the number of students (multiple teachers, multiple sections of the course, graduate teaching assistant support, undergraduate graders, etc.), can be challenging to continuous improvement and on-going course development processes. Through this study, we will share and critically examine our process for revamping the core courses (Foundations of Engineering I and Foundations of Engineering II) over the past two years.
This paper answered the research question: What are the individual, collective, and pragmatic outcomes from engaging faculty from a variety of backgrounds in on-going continual course development and improvement in a large first-year engineering program? This fills a gap in current literature because many descriptive papers and research studies alike focus primarily on course content but less on the structure of the program and how it evolves and develops Furthermore, this paper provides the combined but individual experiences of the professors of practice that completed the curriculum restructuring. Our goal is to provide advice from first-hand experience to assist in the implementation of a similar process at other institutions or in different fields.
Our study is guided by the central constructs in the Interconnected Model of Teacher Growth. While this model focuses on the individual growth of the teacher, it is also a relevant perspective for reflecting on instructor engagement with course development. The model considers 4 domains in which teachers function and grow: personal domain (knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes), the external domain (external sources of stimulus or information), the domain of practice (professional experimentation), and the domain of consequence (salient outcomes). This is an appropriate model to use for this work because in recent years the program has experienced considerable changes that align with the elements of this framework. In the personal domain, we have a large teaching team that brings variety in personal experiences. In the external domain, we have had changes in leadership at several levels and large changes in student enrollment numbers. In the domain of practice, we have experimented with different approaches with varying degrees of similarity and differences across individual sections of the course. In the domain of consequence, we have been reconsidering our approaches to assessment fueled both by program changes and an upcoming ABET review.
Our study is an analysis of autoethnographies completed by those involved in the courses’ development process. Individually, participants reflected on a series of questions informed by the theory guiding the study. In addition to pragmatic questions about what worked well and what did not, we used the framework to make invisible or behind the scenes considerations visible: Where and how in this process did personal beliefs (yours or others) come into play (including previous personal experiences)? What external factors contributed to course development decisions (positive and negative)? What, if any, experimentation was involved? What salient outcomes were considered for students, faculty and other stakeholders? These reflections were collectively, qualitatively analyzed for themes and patterns to yield a series of lessons learned.
Our results provide an insight into what went well, and what didn’t go well. We offer useful and specific advice for others looking to replicate the process. For example, at the beginning of the revamping process, the personal domain (knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes) of the team was quite diverse. While Engineering Education experience was well represented, the team also included people with a variety of qualifications in engineering and beyond, at all career stages, and in some cases with extensive or recent industry experience. The team, then, had experience with a variety of pedagogical methods, each according to the concurrent needs and traditions of their disciplines as they took or facilitated courses. As the revamping process progressed, the entire team had opportunities to be exposed to both familiar and unfamiliar guiding philosophies.
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