Student-centered active learning, in which students are called upon to “do” something during class beyond listening and note taking, should be used to some degree in STEM courses. Active learning has a significant positive impact on learning, understanding, and retention of information. Fortunately, active learning can be incorporated into a course in many ways, from simple approaches that require little-to-no preparation to more complex approaches such as problem based learning. Simple approaches offer the advantages of being readily accessible to newer or time-constrained instructors, not requiring a radical change or overhaul of a course, and providing stepping stones to more complex approaches. In this study, we explored the repeated use of simple active learning techniques (i.e., think-pair-share and the minute paper) in an introductory electrical and computer engineering course in digital logic in the fall 2016. This course had previously been taught in a traditional lecture fashion. With the think-pair-share activities, students were asked to individually (and then in pairs) answer a question or solve a problem involving (for example) the illustration of a circuit and/or its mathematical expression. With the minute paper, students were asked at the end of class to write down their muddiest points, main takeaways, and/or questions based upon their lecture notes. To directly assess the effectiveness of this new approach, current rubric-derived exam results were compared with previous exam results, taking GPA into account. We obtained significantly-higher final exam scores during the active semester. Semi-structured student interviews were also conducted before class sessions and content-analyzed by two analysts to indirectly assess the impact of the techniques on student learning. Based on the interview data, the very large majority of students found the techniques to be helpful to their learning, with most citing the ability to talk to and work with their classmates to solve problems. In addition, the classroom was observed using the COPUS observation protocol to describe it and determine the level of activity and interaction. The instructor’s main takeaway from his first use of these techniques is that they lead to large gains with little-to-no extra time or preparation. Although he had previously not used them due to a perceived lack of time, his advice to new faculty is to try these techniques in their courses. Additional instructor insights and reflections will also be discussed.
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