Research has shown the positive impact of peer mentoring on student learning in STEM. With the goal of improving student learning and retention, the School of Engineering (SoE) has undertaken a program in which Undergraduate Teaching Fellows (UGTFs) have been utilized in key courses across the School. The UGTFs support in-class activities, such as team-based problem-solving activities, hands-on activities and demonstrations. This program has grown from four UGTFs in Spring 2015 to 22 UTFs in Fall 2016, with UGTFs embedded in eleven courses across the SoE.
This paper explores the impact of the UGTF program by investigating three primary questions. First, has the program resulted in greater adoption of active learning techniques? We hypothesized that the program would allow faculty to engage with active learning techniques at a higher level or spark a change in course structure. This question was investigated by analyzing faculty surveys, UGTF surveys, and class observations. Next, are students and faculty more satisfied with the course outcomes given the UGTF resources? This was investigated by analyzing student surveys and course evaluations. We hypothesized that students and faculty would have greater satisfaction with the courses. Finally, has the program positively impacted student learning? This question was investigated by tracking changes in learning outcomes over time for each of the 11 courses. Outcomes for four key courses were focused upon: CE 301 (Civil Engineering Statics and Dynamics), CE 310 (Civil Engineering Strengths of Materials), ME 320 (Mechanical Engineering Dynamics), and ME 211 (Mechanical Engineering Statics). Learning outcomes were assessed by comparing student performance in later courses (downstream courses) based on whether students took the prerequisite course with or without UGTFs.
Results of this investigation showed that students and faculty groups both responded very positively to the UGTF program, perceiving that the program resulted in improved student outcomes. Class observations performed using the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS) showed that in courses utilizing UGTFs, the majority of class-time was spent on activities other than listening, indicating that the UGTF program was successful in supporting student-centered teaching practices. The data that was examined for downstream course performance was suggestive of positive learning gains, but not conclusive at this stage since many students who were in courses with UGTFs have not yet taken the following courses.
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