Muddiest Point: Reflecting back to move forward

For the purposes of learning, reflection can be thought of as intentional bridging between past experience and future action. If getting your students to reflect sounds too complicated and time-consuming to fit into your busy ten-week quarter, consider an example of reflection that has all of the essential features but only takes a few minutes: an efficient, simple assessment technique popularly called “Muddiest Point” that can be applied in virtually any learning context.Reflection

After some kind of learning experience (e.g., lecture, group activity, paper), you give your students a minute to write down what they find the most unclear or confusing—the “muddiest point.” Students can benefit a surprising amount from the mere minute dedicated to this reflection activity. They practice greater awareness of their learning, and repetition can help develop habits to support lifelong learning. Students who recognize where their understanding is “muddy” are also better positioned to direct their learning to remedy this. To better support this, you can also ask students to identify one thing they could do to improve their understanding of their “muddiest point”—perhaps a study group, office hours, reading, or practice exercises.

This reflection activity can inform your future action as the educator, too—not just the students’. Students’ responses help you gauge their learning and guide how you might help them address their “muddiest points.”

Compact reflection activities like “Muddiest Point” are easy to incorporate into most courses. More extensive reflection activities can help students get more learning out of educational experiences and make more numerous and deeper connections. Such activities might have students dedicating more time to the reflection and/or entail reflecting on experiences over a longer span of time.

For instance, mid-way through a multi-week team project, you could have your students write about how they and their peers could improve at being a successful team. For even larger-scale reflection, you could have your students write about how learning in prior courses contributed to their successful completion of some kind of culminating work, e.g., an honors thesis or engineering capstone.

Helping students develop habits of reflecting can help them get more out of their educational experiences. With reflection, individual experiences become more meaningful, and connections to future experiences and goals become apparent. This helps integrates otherwise disparate days, weeks, quarters, and years of education, with the ultimate goal of lifelong learning.

Ken Yasuhara serves as the UW campus lead for the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE) and is a research scientist at the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT).

The original post can be found at: http://www.washington.edu/teaching/2015/02/02/reflecting/

Engineering Education – Past and Present

Engineering has no doubt, progressed in the last 150 years. The commercial airplane, personal automobile, and the computer are some of the marvels that engineers have produced. Engineering pedagogy and curriculum have unquestionably changed as well. I recently skimmed through a book written in 1918 by Charles Riborg Mann on the subject of engineering education, highlighting the present conditions, current problems, and suggested solutions for engineering education. Among the problems, Mann lists admission, time constraints, course content, testing and grading, and shop work as main sections for discussion. As we enter 2015, we continue to see the same repeated discussions as 100 years prior. [1]

In the compilation, Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century published by the National Academy of Engineering, a discussion ensues about the outlook of engineering education. In a section entitled, “Pursue Student-Centered Education,” it is stated that “one should address how students learn as well as what they learn in order to ensure that student learning outcomes focus on the performance characteristics needed in future engineers. Two major tasks define this focus: (1) better alignment of engineering curricula and tpic_engineering_degreehe nature of academic experiences with the challenges and opportunities graduates will face in the workplace and (2) better alignment of faculty skill sets with those needed to deliver the desired curriculum in light of the different learning styles of students.” [2]

It is a continual struggle to define what the “best” approach to educating engineers is. Will that come with improved curriculum? Better grading? Or does the key lie in how we assist students in drawing meaning and significance from their work thus motivating them to continue to pursue engineering with excellence? We believe that reflection plays a vital role in helping students to draw significance and understanding from their rigorous studies.

Even as we continually make strides towards improving engineering education, we will still ask similar questions as Professor Mann in 1919, “Do we need fewer or more schools? Is the curriculum too long or too short? Should the engineering school be made a graduate professional school? What are the present demands of science, of industry, and of education? How well are the schools meeting these demands? What changes, if any, seem desirable?” [1]

Lauren Sepp is a graduate student in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. She is also a  research assistant for CPREE. (lsepp@uw.edu)
[1] Mann, Charles Riborg. “A study of engineering education.” Bulletin 11 (1918).
[2] Phase, I. I. Educating the Engineer of 2020:: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century. National Academies Press, 2005.

Designing for Slowness

The Association for Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Conference on Human Factors in Computer Systems (CHI) is an annual event where many researchers in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) meet to present novel findings and various studies. In 2014, several awards for Best Paper were distributed. One award was given for a paper entitled, Designing for Slowness, Anticipation, and Re-visitation: A Long Term Field Study of the Photobox. [1] This paper is an interesting study in which researchers placed wooden boxes containing computers and a printer in participants’ homes. These boxes had access to each participant’s Flickr archives, and would randomly select 4-5 photos from participants’ digital photo archives to print out each month at unspecified intervals. The study prompted an investigation into the ways in which individuals use the physical artifacts of photos to reflect on, and revisit experiences or periods of time that were previously captured and stored in their digital Flickr archive.

The study ultimately found that:

“Experiences of living with slow technology provoked participants to broadly reflect on the role of technology in their everyday lives. The Photobox was ultimately successful at opening up new experiences for participants with their photo collections, and in some cases, older photo curation processes emerged.” [1]

In our world today, we are inundated by the latest technologies, and digital methods which help to organize our lives. Personal planners with worn and stained pages are rarely seen and have rather been replaced by digital calendars that alert us every time an item is due. Our music collections are no longer frustrated by the scratched CD’s or damaged cassette tapes piled in our car’s center console, they are instead crammed into Gigabytes on our iPods and smartphones.  Similarly, the number of pictures that we store on our telephones and computers has grown to an enormous size. This Photobox study is an interesting process of slowing technology down and taking a moment to revert to the physical artifacts of photographs.

The process of slowing technology down is a prime opportunity for reflection. Each participant in the study was reminded of events past as photographs arrived at random intervals. As we dive into what reflection means for ourselves and for students, we can be reminded that the process of slowing technology and approaches down can be helpful. Could we promote slow reflection? Many students are used to instantaneous results or communication – gone are the days of waiting to receive a letter in the mail from a loved one – cherishing it and re-reading it until the ink smears and the letter tears. How could our approach to reflection be modified to rekindle the effects of slowed, meaningful, and purposeful reflection?

Technology has many benefits that enable incredible technology to be a part of our lives, but value remains in slowing life down to reflect on the past to inform and enrich our lives as they move ahead.

Lauren Sepp is a graduate student in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. She is also a  research assistant for CPREE. (lsepp@uw.edu)

Link to Paper: https://di.ncl.ac.uk/publications/Odom-et-al-Designing-for-Slowess.pdf
[1] W. Odom, A. Sellen, R. Banks, D. Kirk, T. Regan, M. Selby, J. Forlizzi and J. Zimmerman, “Designing for Slowness, Anticipation, and Re-visitation: A Long Term Field Study of the Photobox,” in CHI, Toronto, 2014.

Electrodermal Activity Reveals Student’s Sympathetic Nervous System Response During Class Time

Getting students to actively pay attention for an entire class and engage with material is a common challenge for teachers. Sometimes, material content isn’t stimulating for students, other times, students may be thinking about other things – whatever the reason, engaging classrooms is a continually evolving effort. One recently conducted study developed a wearable sensor that is capable of detecting electrodermal activity. Electrodermal activity can be correlated to the engagement of the sympathetic nervous system. The wearable sensor developed by MIT is helpful in conducting research on the sympathetic nervous system outside of laboratories and in the daily activities of its user.

“…the sympathetic nervous system stimulates increased metabolic output to deal with external challenges. As such, increased sympathetic activity (sympathetic arousal) elevates heart rate, blood pressure, and sweating, as well as redirects blood from the intestinal reservoir toward skeletal muscles, lungs, heart, and brain in preparation for motor action.” [1]

In situ electrodermal

 

 

Figure 1. In Situ Electrodermal Activity Results [1]

 

This electrodermal activity monitor was tested in situ on a student who wore the sensor for 7 days. While the purpose of this study was to test the sensor’s capabilities, the outcome from the student was quite revealing in that, during his time in the classroom, his sympathetic nervous system was almost a flatline – similar to that of times when the subject was watching television. (See Figure 1) In other words, the student displayed barely any reaction or stimulation from classroom time as compared to other activities such as homework and lab time.

Although this data was collected from one individual whose learning styles and interests are unique, the data presented promotes an opportunity for educators to pause and consider the outcomes. The student receives more stimulation from doing chores than he did during class time. How can we engage students better during class time? How might reflection, change students’ attentiveness, stimulation, and reactions during class time?

 

Lauren Sepp is a graduate student in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. She is also a  research assistant for CPREE. (lsepp@uw.edu)

[1] Poh, Ming-Zher, Nicholas C Swenson and Rosalind W Picard. “A Wearable Sensor for Unobtrusive, Long-Term Assessment of Electrodermal Activity.” IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering 57.5 (2010): 1-10.

[2] Herwig, Uwe, Tina Kaffenberger, Caroline Schell, Lutz Jancke, and Annette Bruhl. “Neural Activity Associated with Self-Reflection.” BMC Neuroscience 13.52 (2012). Web. 11 Nov. 2014. <http://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/1471-2202-13-52#page-1>.

Reflection on Failure

Lauren Sepp

In light of the recent explosion of the Antares rocket, many engineers’ countless hours of preparation and calculation have resulted in a $200 million loss. While extremely disappointing, and the exact cause still unknown, the explosion provides an inviting backdrop for reflection. Many engineers must confront failure at one point or another during their career and whether that occurs in college or while launching a rocket, learning how to fail and reflecting on why can serve to broaden our approaches and perspectives.

rocket explosion[1]

In a journal article by Glenda S. Stump, Jenefer Husman, and Marcia Corby, students’ beliefs about intelligence in relation to learning and successes and failures is discussed. Some students have the ability to view failure as a stepping stone to gaining knowledge and an indicator to try a new approach or study harder, while others “…view their failure as a reflection of their low ability. They begin to doubt their capability for success, and their self-efficacy for learning and performance begins to erode.” [2]

The experience of failure is a necessary part of the learning process and while the Antares rocket failure is a bit different than failing a term in school, it reminds us to press on through the difficult times, and that taking failed results and learning from them, to move forward boldly despite them, can be a positive addition to our education.

It is in this same spirit that the Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, William Gerstenmaier describes the outcome of the explosion:
“While NASA is disappointed that Orbital Sciences’ third contracted resupply mission to the International Space Station was not successful today, we will continue to move forward toward the next attempt once we fully understand today’s mishap. The crew of the International Space Station is in no danger of running out of food or other critical supplies. Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success. Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station.” [3]

William Gerstenmaier is sharing the reflective stance of NASA’s engineers – that although the failure is extremely expensive and disappointing, they are well prepared to take it in stride, to improve on further iterations, and to move forward.

Discussing failures such as the Antares Rocket explosion, or other engineering failures remind students to not only take necessary measures to avoid catastrophic failure in engineering as an ethical consideration, but to consider this time in school as an opportunity to fail – it is unique in that the failures they encounter now are usually only represented by a letter grade, and it can be vital to take those in stride to improve approaches and methodology as to avoid catastrophic failure in their steps outside of college.

Bibliography

[1] NASA, “NASA Statement Regarding Oct. 28 Orbital Sciences Corp. Launch Failure,” NASA, 28 October 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/structure/launch/orbital.html. [Accessed 29 October 2014].
[2] J. H. M. C. Glenda S Stump, “Engineering Students’ Intelligence Beliefs and Learning,” Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 103, no. 3, pp. 369-387, 2014.
[3] D. Szondy, “NASA Releases More Information on Antares Explosion,” Gizmag, 28 October 2014. [Online]. Available: http://www.gizmag.com/antares-press-conference/34477/. [Accessed 29 October 2014].

 

Lauren Sepp is a graduate student in the department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. She is also a  research assistant for CPREE. (lsepp@uw.edu)

 

Why is this major foundation encouraging reflection by engineering students?

Engineers are generally forward-thinking people—researching, developing, and testing the kinds of technological innovations that move economies and societies ahead. A new grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, however, encourages undergraduate engineering students to look back.

Helmsley recently awarded $4.4 million in grants to a dozen institutions of higher education to develop and promote instructional practices that are designed to help undergraduate engineering students reflect on their experiences. Reflection involves examining early experiences to draw meaning from them, then defining how that meaning will guide future actions.

Now it may be tempting to dismiss all this as too touchy-feely or as the “Oprah-fication” of engineering. However, reflection has long been recognized as an important element of higher education, even in the STEM fields. “Reflection accelerates the learning that happens through experience, and so it is critical for preparing the next generation of engineers,” said Cynthia Atman, a professor of Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington.

The Helmsley grant will focus on first- and second-year undergraduate engineering majors, especially those from student populations underrepresented in STEM. It is hoped that the reflection program will help more of these students complete their degrees and think broadly when they enter the workforce. Schools sharing in the Helmsley funds include Arizona State, California Polytechnic, Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford, and the University of Washington.

The program to encourage reflection is consistent with Helmsley’s approach to higher education, which emphasizes increasing the number of graduates in the STEM fields, with particular attention paid to practices that improve student retention and completion, especially among underrepresented students.

Clearly, the Helmsley Trust has hit upon an area of concern. A presidential commission found that only 4 in 10 students who enter college as STEM majors go on to complete degrees in those fields, among ethnic minority students, the completion rate is even lower. So there is plenty of room for good ideas to improve these rates and encourage more persistence among STEM majors.

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http://www.insidephilanthropy.com/science-education/2014/10/9/why-is-this-major-foundation-encouraging-reflection-by-engin.html

Research Brief: Integrating Reflection into Engineering Education

By: Drs. Brook Sattler and Lauren Thomas, CPREE multi-campus coordinators

Early in the development of the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE), it was apparent that a framework to understand reflection in the context of engineering education was necessary. The topic is frequently researched and published in other disciplines, such as medicine, teacher education, and therapy, but less frequently in engineering education.  The authors of “Integrating Reflection into Engineering Education” ( Turns et al., 2014) develop and present a framework for thinking about reflective practices, explore how it is situated in theory, and provide examples within engineering education. Also, Turns et al. (2014) confront some of the realistic challenges of supporting reflection in engineering education. The authors propose seven elements of reflection: experience, features, lens, meaning, action, intentional, and dialectical. The elements are drawn from existing reflection theory and related theoretical perspectives to provide a rich framework to understand reflection, particularly in engineering education (p. 3). The easy-to-use examples enable the reader to apply the seven elements and consider how reflection may work in their particular context, class, or activity. They also acknowledge that there are difficulties and concerns that may particularly resonate with engineers, as they encounter reflection within the discipline.

Tips for educators presented in this work:

  • Think of how you may have or are currently including reflection in your practice with students. Using the examples provided, there are ways in which our students reflect, with or without us, which we can influence on a regular basis.
  • Use this framework. This paper provides an accessible way to operationalize reflection in the context of engineering education. Once you have identified a practice that may explicitly be reflection, consider each of the seven elements. Also, keep in mind that there are not always right and wrong answers.
  • Acknowledge the difficulties. What are some ways in which reflection is difficult for you? Are you hesitant to engage students in reflection and why? These questions and concerns are valid, and certainly inform our approach to using reflection as an educational practice. Keep in mind, that reflection can be done on a very small scale and remain relevant to developing future engineers.

Questions or challenges presented in this work:

  • Some of the elements of reflection may be challenging to grasp! Many of the instructors and researchers that we have talked with have had challenges understanding parts of the framework particularly, lens and meaning. Which of the seven elements are challenging for you?
  • What examples of reflective activity are you using with students?

Turns, J., Sattler, B., Yasuhara, K., Borgford-Parnell, J., & Atman, C.J. (2014). Integrating Reflection into Engineering Education. In ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. Retrieved from http://www.asee.org/file_server/papers/attachment/file/0004/4292/Integrating_Reflection_-_ASEE_2014_-_Final.pdf

12 higher education schools team up to promote reflection

September 8, 2014

Michelle Ma, University of Washington News and Information

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust has granted $4.4 million to a consortium of 12 higher education schools to develop and promote teaching practices that help undergraduate engineering students reflect on their experiences.

The newly formed Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE), led by the University of Washington’s Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching, focuses on first- and second-year undergraduates who want to be engineers. The goal is to enhance their ability to learn, help a greater percentage complete their degrees and ultimately foster a larger, more diverse and better prepared engineering workforce.

“Research increasingly points to reflection as an important activity in achieving these goals,” said Jennifer Turns, consortium co-director and a UW professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering.

Reflection — giving meaning to prior experiences and determining how that meaning will guide future actions — has long been recognized as important in higher education.

“Reflection accelerates the learning that happens through experience, and so it is critical for preparing the next generation of engineers,” said Cynthia Atman, consortium co-director and a UW professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering.

Because reflection practices and strategies may vary greatly across schools, the consortium incorporates both associate’s degree-granting and four-year institutions. Each institution brings a distinct perspective on teaching engineering and great enthusiasm for expanding their focus on reflection, leaders said.

The schools involved are Arizona State University, Polytechnic School, in Mesa, Arizona; Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington; California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California; Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York; Green River Community College in Auburn, Washington; Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; Highline College in Des Moines, Washington; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana; Seattle Central College in Seattle; Seattle University in Seattle; Stanford University in Palo Alto, California; and the University of Washington.

The 12-school consortium will involve nearly 250 educators who will collect data on 18,000 student experiences. Each institution will get $200,000 over two academic years to fund a principal investigator and other colleagues to carry out the work. The tools and practices developed throughout this initiative will be shared with engineering programs nationwide.

“The project is designed to celebrate the local culture at each institution. Each educator has a kind of expertise that we want to reveal,” Atman said.

In the first year, the emphasis is on documenting reflection activities already in use on the campuses and creating support for student reflection. Another key part of the work is for the campuses to learn from each other.

To achieve these goals, schools will hold campus events that promote conversations about reflecting as a learning practice. The principal investigator at each school will participate in regular conference calls with the other leads, and in the winter, engage more deeply with each other at a meeting at the UW. While developing a plan for how to expand their reflection activities in the second year, each school — in collaboration with consortium staff — will additionally compile a guide that explains reflection practices in use at their institution as a way to inform colleagues and others in higher education.

Project leaders expect the consortium’s work will be useful across all disciplines in higher education. The practice of taking a broader view of learning by emphasizing reflection is something that can benefit all students and their educators, regardless of the field.

“The Trust is delighted to support such a diverse group of schools in this effort to increase our nation’s engineering capacity,” said Ryan Kelsey, program officer for higher education at the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “Helping first- and second-year students reflect on what it means to be an engineer as they learn foundational concepts is a very promising strategy for attracting and retaining a larger and more diverse future engineering workforce.”

For more information, contact Atman at atman@uw.edu or 206-616-2171 and Turns at jturns@uw.edu or 206-221-3650.

See the original press release here: http://www.engr.washington.edu/news/cpree-consortium

Reflection makes sense: New initiative prompts engineering students to look back to go forward

University of Washington News and Information

Asking students to reflect on and learn from their educational experiences is crucial to academic and career successes. But bringing this element of reflection into teaching practices remains a significant challenge, especially in engineering education.

The University of Washington’s Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching has received a $4.4 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to develop and promote teaching practices that help undergraduate engineering students reflect on their experiences. The award establishes the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education that focuses on first- and second-year undergraduates who want to be engineers, especially those from underrepresented populations. The goal is to enhance their ability to learn, help a greater percentage complete their degrees and ultimately foster a larger and better prepared engineering workforce that the global economy requires.

U of Washington

“We need to graduate engineers who are thinking broadly when they enter the working world and are capable of developing solutions for the challenges our society faces,” said Cindy Atman, director of the engineering center and a professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering.

The UW-led consortium will involve a group of 12 higher education institutions, including community colleges, four-year colleges and research universities. Organizers aim to involve nearly 250 educators across the 12 institutions and collect data from 18,000 student experiences. Each institution will get $200,000 over two academic years to fund a principal investigator and other colleagues to carry out the work. The tools and practices developed through this initiative will be brought to engineering programs nationwide.

Reflection – giving meaning to prior experiences and determining how that meaning will guide future actions – has long been recognized as important in higher education. Research has established a relationship between reflection and follow-through in academics, finding that small-scale challenges – such as a bad test score or a difficult homework assignment – can accumulate and influence a student’s decision to leave her or his engineering program.

“The one thing you can count on in education is that students will have challenging experiences they will need to reflect on,” said Jennifer Turns, a professor of Human Centered Design & Engineering and faculty affiliate with the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching. Turns is co-leading the new initiative at the UW.

“If you can get students to add an element of reflection that can bump them out of the ‘I don’t belong in engineering’ feeling at the micro-level, you might be able to change their macro-level decision to leave or stay in engineering,” Turns said.

Organizers will start by identifying the institutions in the consortium and begin working with each one to see how educators currently use reflection practices in their teaching. In the following years, consortium leaders will create documents that capture how instructors at each participating school incorporate reflection into the classroom. Leaders will award grants to spearhead new projects that creatively bring reflection into classrooms and track the effects on learning and student retention.

University of Washington graduate students talk about their projects in class.

Project leaders expect the consortium’s work will be useful across all disciplines in higher education. The practice of taking a broader view of learning by emphasizing reflection is something that can benefit all students and their educators, regardless of the field.

“There is this really important sense-making process that has to happen, and we forget sometimes that students need help doing it,” Turns said. “When I ask students what surprised them in a specific learning situation, they get a chance to pause and think about what that surprise means. In the process, their blind spots get surfaced and sometimes mine do, too.”

The goal in choosing a range of schools is to tailor types of reflection practices to what students need at different institutions. For example, a student at a community college who is hoping to enroll in an engineering program likely has different needs than a second-year university student who is already taking engineering classes. Similarly, educators and advisers need the tools to encourage different types of reflection, depending on students’ needs.

“The project design tries to celebrate the local culture. Each educator has a kind of expertise that we want to reveal,” Atman said.

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For more information, contact Atman at atman@uw.edu or 206-616-2171 and Turns at jturns@uw.edu or 206-221-3650.

See the original press release at:

http://www.washington.edu/news/2014/03/05/reflection-makes-sense-new-initiative-prompts-engineering-students-to-look-back-to-go-forward/