Reading, Writing Energy: An Nsf Ccli Project To Enhance A Freshman Core Curriculum Natural Science Course
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ENGR 101 is a natural science core curriculum course offered every semester to non-engineering majors at a Research-I university in Texas. With particular emphasis on energy and its sustainability, this course aims at helping students develop critical thinking and effective communication skills to become responsible and scientifically literate citizens. Unique elements in the course design include the student population it targets, the skills and knowledge it emphasizes, and the varied conduct of the class meetings. A key learning design characteristic is the variety of learning strategies employed, including weekly quizzes on assigned reading interactive lectures provided to all students as a group weekly recitation sessions of no more than 20 students designed to engage students in interactive discussions of current energy news and how it impacts energy sustainability weekly essay assignments requiring students to summarize, analyze, and synthesize material they are initially provided, and later encouraged to find for themselves, and student-centered semester-long projects with open-ended guidelines. The diverse instructional team includes two full professors in charge of the lectures, a third full professor managing the recitations, and graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) and undergraduate peer teachers (UPTs) who conduct the recitation sessions. While the full professors all come from engineering disciplines, UPTs are selected from students who have previously taken the course, and both GTAs and UPTs can come from any of the university degree programs. The ENGR 101 course was piloted for the first 2 semesters only to honors sections. NSF CCLI funding for the Reading, Writing - Energy (RW-E) project is providing a mechanism to enhance the course as enrollment is opened to both honors and regular students. Students selected from those who took the course in the initial honors offerings have subsequently become UPTs for the recitation sections. The RW-E project funding includes support for an assistant professor and a PhD level graduate student from the College of Education and Human Resources. These two project participants have drafted a training program for the UPTs and GTAs to be held prior to each semester, and they convene the instructional team on a weekly basis to share experiences, share additional learning resources and discuss plans for the following week. They assist the engineering professors in charge of the course to incorporate student-centered learning strategies in line with design principles of the How People Learn1 framework. They also conduct research on the course design and its effectiveness in achieving learning goals, emphasizing critical thinking, effective communication skills, learning from peers, and issues awareness. The RW-E project is highly beneficial to development of the ENGR 101 course. Involving learning scientists in the course design and planning has greatly enhanced its value to students. American Society for Engineering Education, 2008.