Nikos J. Mourtos
Professor & Director,
Aerospace Engineering,
San Jose State University, California, USA
Student

Led Active Learning Workshops:
Increasing Student Retention, Decreasing
Time to Graduation and Providing High

Performing Students with Opportunities to
Develop Coaching Skills
Background
Engineer =
P
roblem Solver
Problem
S
olving ≠ Textbook
E
xercise Solving
Undergraduate engineering students:
Observe >
1
,
000
examples solved on the board
S
olve
>
3
,
000
homework
exercises
Still lack
the skills to tackle real world problems
1
.
Textbook exercises help bridge theory + application; help
develop foundational skills
Students have difficulty solving straightforward textbook
exercises
1
: Woods, D.R. et all, Developing problem solving skills: the McMaster problem
solving program, ASEE J of Engineering Education,
86
,
2
,
75

91
,
1997
Why?
1.
No working knowledge in math + physics
2.
Lack of coaching in problem solving skills
3.
Inadequate time on task
1
1940
’s
40
hrs
/ week class time + study
2011
27
hrs
/ week class
time +
study
1961
25
hrs
/ week studying
1981
20
hrs
/ week
studying
2003
13
hrs
/ week
studying
4.
L
ack of individual practice
1

Arum
, R. and
Roksa
, J., Academically Adrift, University of Chicago Press,
Kindle Edition, (
2011
).
AL & CL in the Classroom
Emphasis on problem solving
Examples
–
solved on the board
Workouts
–
solved by students in small
groups during class
Coaching
students in class, while they
solve problems
Students
solve problems
on the board
Credit
for workouts solved correctly
Poor performance on tests
Review & Retake
Doesn’t work!!!
~
5
% improved their score on retake exams
Does not address any of the root causes:
1.
No
working knowledge in math +
physics
2.
Lack
of coaching in problem solving
skills
3.
Inadequate
time on
task
4.
Lack
of individual practice
Student

Led Active Learning
Workshops
–
Fall
2011
Faculty train
AE Honor Society Students
(Sigma Gamma Tau) in AL techniques
Students work
individually
during the
workshops to solve problems
HSS provide individual or group
coaching
as needed
Workshops offered before makeup tests
Students
must attend workshop
before
taking a makeup test!
Improvements in Passing Rates
Math & Physics
w/o workshops =
50
% (Spring
2008
& earlier)
w. workshops =
77
%

89
% (Fall
2011
)
Aerodynamics I
w/o workshops =
63
% (Fall
2010
)
w. workshops =
85
%
(Fall
2011
)
Students who attended at least
one workshop (Spring
2012
)
Fluid Mechanics =
95
%
Could not attend due to time conflicts =
14
%
Aerodynamics II =
96
%
Could not attend
due
to time conflicts =
18
%
Student Feedback
(Spring
2012
)
Fluid Mechanics =
63
%
response,
86
% +
very helpful =
36
%
helpful =
50
%
not helpful =
9
%
Aerodynamics
II
=
65
%
response,
96
% +
very helpful =
46
%
helpful =
50
%
not helpful =
4
%
Student Perspective
(
Spring
2012
)
Practice
in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Increased ability
for
math modeling
.
C
oached
into developing a problem
solving approach.
I
mmediate help.
Student Perspective
(
Spring
2012
)
Leaders
would not
give answers; provided
hints; students
challenged to think
on
their
own
;
“I worked
through each problem in
ways I wouldn’t normally be attempting
while studying on my
own”
.
Exposed
to different kinds of problems,
including open

ended
;
looked
at problems
from different angles
.
Student Perspective
(
Spring
2012
)
Problems
were challenging;
greatly
enhanced their problem solving skills.
Identified
weaknesses in their
understanding of the
material; opportunities
to address these weaknesses
.
“Without the workshops I wouldn’t have
studied as much as I should for the makeup
tests”.
Student
Leaders’ Perspective
Student misconceptions:
Doing
well
academically:
ability to repeat
verbatim information
from
text /
lectures
.
Contributing
f
aculty practices:
Exam problems identical to examples in text /
lectures.
Open book exams
–
students adapt existing
solution from text / notes.
Improvements (Fall
2012
)
Weekly or bi

w
eekly quizzes
Workshops are offered weekly
Students attend workshops before each test
Normally, no make up tests!
Special cases: to re

take a test:
Must attend special workshop
Must solve at least one problem correctly
Conclusions
1.
Students have great difficulty solving even
straightforward problems. These difficulties are both
cognitive:
a.
N
o
working knowledge in math +
physics
affective:
b.
Inadequate time on
task
c.
Lack of individual
practice
l
ack of appropriate pedagogy:
d.
No
coaching in problem solving
skills
2.
Student

led AL workshops address (d) but may also
improve (a) and (b).
3.
Student performance on tests has improved
dramatically. Eliminate makeup tests altogether?
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