June 11, 2013

Often college professors struggle for professional opportunities to engage in effective instructional techniques to help retain students in science, technology, engineering and math fields to graduation. In an effort to combat dropout rates among STEM students, LSU College of Engineering’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP) hosts an annual Faculty Development Workshop to facilitate active learning strategies as part of the “Bears to Tigers” partnership between Baton Rouge Community College and LSU.

Twenty seven faculty members from LSU and BRCC gathered May 20-22 for a three-day workshop on the LSU campus to enhance professional and instructional skills and motivate faculty with innovative teaching tools. The program allows BRCC and LSU faculty to meet and coordinate courses for the “Bears to Tigers” partnership that supports students who have completed the Associate of Science in Engineering degree at BRCC and will transfer into a Bachelor of Science degree program at LSU in a College of Engineering discipline. 

Dr. Rebecca Brent, president of Education Design, Inc. and Dr. Richard Felder, professor emeritus in chemical engineering from North Carolina State University, facilitated the 2013 FDW. Brent and Felder have presented over 300 workshops on effective teaching, course design, mentoring and supporting new faculty members and faculty development on campuses throughout the United States and abroad. In addition, Brent and Felder co-direct the American Society for Engineering Education National Effective Teaching Institute.

“Traditional instruction in college science, technology, engineering, and mathematics includes hour-long chalk-and-talk sessions or PowerPoint shows, little or no real-world content, ridiculously long assignments, and tricky tests that only the fastest students in the class have time to finish,” Felder said. “A large body of research has shown conclusively that instruction like that just doesn't work for many students who would make excellent STEM professionals. They go through a year or two of it and conclude that STEM is not for them, and even if they are getting decent grades, they drop out in large numbers. Unfortunately, college teachers are the only skilled professionals I know who are not routinely trained to enter their profession. As a result, most STEM instructors don't even know that there are other ways to teach with much better track records of promoting learning and increasing retention. Not knowing alternatives, they default to teaching the way their teachers taught them...and since their teachers were also untrained, the ineffective old methods just keep being inflicted on generation after generation of students.”

Workshop participants learned how to recognize students' learning preferences, incorporate active learning strategies in their classrooms, write and use learning objectives in their courses, develop strategies for effective team projects and implement effective grading and assessment techniques. Participants also developed at least one teaching module to be used in their classes that will utilize active learning strategies and presented it to the group.  

“BRCC math and science faculty learned active learning strategies that they will use to improve student learning in their classes,” said Dr. Jo Dale Ales, dean, STEM at BRCC. “Engineering students will be more successful academically at BRCC and when they transfer to LSU after earning their associate degree. This is a win-win situation for both institutions and the students.”

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, the CoE 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. The goal of the program is to improve retention and increase the number of graduates in engineering and construction management by designing ways to engage students in their classes and programs and discussing activities to increase their students' understanding of difficult concepts.

To date, approximately 146 LSU and BRCC faculty members, Ph.D. students and postdoctoral students from the CoE, biology, chemistry, English, math and physics have participated in the faculty development workshops.

LSU and BRCC, joined forces in the fall of 2010 to offer the “Bears to Tigers” partnership, which makes engineering more affordable and practical to many students who might have difficulty entering LSU, whether due to financial issues or entry requirements. The partnership allows participating BRCC students to become involved at LSU and experience additional opportunities specific to their major.

Having BRCC faculty attend this workshop will help to strengthen the program’s recruitment, retention and placement into an integrated and comprehensive program that promotes student success in transitioning from the community college to LSU and foster the faculty learning communities between the two campuses.


Article written by Elise Bernard, communications intern. For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, College of Engineering, mlavall@lsu.edu or (225) 578-5706.

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