June 5, 2009

The STEP Program of the College of Engineering hosted its third annual Faculty Development Workshop. Twenty faculty members and instructors from the College of Engineering and the College of Basic Sciences participated in this year's three day workshop to develop new strategies for improving retention among undergraduate students.

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, through its Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program, or STEP, the objective of the project is to increase the number of bachelor's graduates in the fields of engineering and construction management. LSU faculty and instructors learned how to incorporate active learning strategies in their classrooms, how to write and use learning objectives in their courses and how to implement effective grading and assessment techniques. In addition, several members from the two previous workshops presented how they incorporated active learning strategies in their courses. University wide, the STEP program has trained approximately 60 faculty members and instructors in the various active learning strategies and collaborative learning techniques.

"I tried for over 10 years and while I noticed improvement in my student retention data, I was unable to persuade even a single colleague to try active learning. I was chided for not teaching "real calculus." I gave up on reform style teaching and went back to lecture only. After attending this workshop, I feel re-invigorated," stated Paul W. Britt, LSU mathematics instructor.

Facilitating the workshop were Dr. Rebecca Brent, President of Educational Designs and Dr. Richard Felder, Professor Emeritus in Chemical Engineering from North Carolina State University. Drs Brent and Felder have presented over 300 workshops in these topics throughout the United States and abroad. The facilitators also offered an open session, STEM Education in 2015 -or sooner. Over 60 university members, K-12 teachers and members of the public attended this seminar.

The college is using the NSF grant to attract faculty from engineering, construction management, math, chemistry, physics and English who teach first- or second-year students to participate in the workshop and improve retention through STEP courses by designing ways to engage students in their classes and programs, and discussing activities to increase their students' understanding of difficult concepts.

"Educational research literature clearly indicates that the introduction of active learning strategies into classes not only improves learning and the development of critical thinking skills, but helps to develop a sense of community which contributes to improved retention," said Warren Waggenspack Jr., associate dean for academic programs in the College of Engineering. "An unintended but positive outcome of past workshops has been the development of a sense of excitement and community among the faculty who have participated. Once exposed to the benefits of active learning strategies both to their students and to their enjoyment of teaching, they embrace and incorporate the principles of the workshop into their classes. The role of the project and the college is to continue to support the faculty to make and sustain these changes."

Article by Summer Dann Johnson, MSME, EIT, STEP Coordinator, College of Engineering, and excerpted from LSU media relations release, 225-578-5706, mlavall@lsu.edu

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