Formative assessment is often conceptualized as an ongoing, informal process wherein instructors elicit and assess student thinking within the context of existing classwork. They can then use this feedback to make adjustments to their teaching. Some researchers, while agreeing with this definition, argue that much of the existing formative assessment research focuses on what teachers do, rather than what students think. Instead, they reframe formative assessment as responsive teaching, an instructional approach in which teachers elicit student thinking around a particular topic, notice and interpret the disciplinary substance contained within students’ thinking, and then respond in real-time in order to support students’ disciplinary behaviors. Responsive teaching has been studied for some time in K-12 mathematics and science education, and it has recently become a focus in K-12 engineering education. However, to our knowledge no research has investigated responsive teaching in undergraduate engineering education. We intend to begin a conversation about this important area of study through three specific aims of this paper: 1) introduce new engineering educators to prior research on responsive teaching, 2) discuss how formative assessment was used in two undergraduate engineering science courses and investigate whether these practices afford responsive teaching, and 3) suggest ways new engineering educators can incorporate responsive teaching practices into their own teaching.
Aaron W. Johnson is an Assistant Professor in the Aerospace Engineering Department and a Core Faculty member of the Engineering Education Research Program at the University of Michigan. He believes in a strong connection between engineering education research and practice, and his research leverages his experience teaching engineering science courses to bring more aspects of ill-defined, sociotechnical engineering practice into the classroom. Aaron holds a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from U-M, and a Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to re-joining U-M, he was an instructor in Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Dr. Cynthia Finelli is Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Associate Professor of Education, and Director of Engineering Education Research at University of Michigan. Her research areas include student resistance to active learning, the impact of the classroom space on teaching and learning, the use of classroom technology to increase student learning and engagement, and faculty adoption of evidence-based teaching practices. She recently led an international initiative to develop a taxonomy for the field of engineering education research. Dr. Finelli is a Fellow of the American Society of Engineering Education, Associate Editor for the IEEE Transactions on Education, and past chair of the Educational Research and Methods Division of ASEE. She founded the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering at University of Michigan in 2003 and served as its Director for 12 years.
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