Instructional Sequences in Pre-College Engineering Education

Project: Research project

Project Details


Instructional Sequences in Pre-College Engineering Education Instructional Sequences in Pre-College Engineering Education Recent National Academy of Engineering reports have underscored the need for improved engineering education for middle and high school pre-college students for our technology-based society. While outreach programs have developed curricula and organizational structures for educating pre-college students in engineering, there is a scarcity of research examining the cognitive aspects of instructional designs for pre-college students who are novices in engineering. We propose a set of rigorous empirical experiments to investigate instructional sequences that dynamically adapt engineering representations, practice, and feedback as pre-college students advance from novices to competent problem solvers in a basic engineering knowledge domain. Based on the adaptive control of thought-rational (ACT-R) theory, the cognitive load theory, and the cognitive-affective theory of learning with media we will investigate the following research questions: 1. How should we sequence concrete versus abstract representations of conceptual and procedural knowledge to promote students learning? 2. How should we sequence the number of worked-out problem steps in materials of varying difficulty to promote students learning? 3. How should we sequence feedback methods to promote students learning? To answer these questions, we will use mixed quantitative and qualitative methods within a set of randomized controlled experimental studies with pre-college students in outreach programs targeting young women and minorities in the State of Arizona. Intellectual Merit: This research on dynamic instructional sequences addresses the changing needs of learners as they advance in their skill acquisition. Instructional designs that may help an engineering novice at the initial stages of learning may hinder a learner in advanced learning stages. On the other hand, a novice learner may be overwhelmed by instructional designs suited to support learners in advanced learning stages. Building on a systematic relationship between theoretical frameworks, rigorous experiments and data analysis we will advance our understanding of how different instructional designs should be employed in sequences to best support pre-college students learn engineering. Specifically, the project will examine how the concreteness of conceptual and procedural engineering knowledge should be sequenced, how much guidance students should receive as they practice solving problems of increasing difficulty levels, and how different feedback methods should be adapted as students develop problemsolving expertise. Broader Impact: This project will reach over 1,000 pre-college students, including a large portion of minority students, who will participate in the proposed experiments in Arizona. The project participation has the potential to significantly promote the pre-college students engineering problem solving skills, as well as self-efficacy and interest in engineering. In addition, the findings of this project will inform the development and implementation of effective outreach programs nationwide, thus substantially increasing their effectiveness to attract underrepresented groups to engineering careers. Hispanics and Native Americans make up more than one half of the population in AZ but are severely underrepresented in the engineering workforce. Thus, the broader impact of this project is to develop, test, and disseminate effective instructional sequence designs aimed at introducing these groups to engineering and ensuring that their first engineering learning experiences are successful.
Effective start/end date10/15/109/30/14


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $400,000.00


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