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E-CUE MEETING Monday, April 26, 2004 E-CUE AGENDA – April 26, 2004 Mechanical Engineering Alumni Study (Professor Warren Seering and Kristen Wolfe) Workload and Learning: Faculty interviews for ‘ideal’ subjects, 2.005/2.006 and 6.004 Best-practice in MIT undergraduate engineering education

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e cue meeting


Monday, April 26, 2004

e cue agenda april 26 2004
E-CUE AGENDA – April 26, 2004
  • Mechanical Engineering Alumni Study (Professor Warren Seering and Kristen Wolfe)
  • Workload and Learning: Faculty interviews for ‘ideal’ subjects, 2.005/2.006 and 6.004
best practice in mit undergraduate engineering education
Best-practice in MIT undergraduate engineering education
  • Juniors and seniors in 3 departments completed written survey regarding workload and learning.
    • Mechanical Engineering: 45 respondents (30% response rate)
    • Chemical Engineering: 80 respondents (43% response rate)
    • EECS: 105 respondents (20% response rate)
    • Will improve response rates in Fall 2004 survey of larger group with formal online survey
  • Focus groups supplemented written survey data
  • Students were asked to identify subjects in which workload was high AND the teaching/ learning process supported learning Faculty interviews of subjects identified as best-practice were carried out.
high workload and learning behind the scenes in best practice subjects
(HIGH) Workload and learning: Behind the scenes in best-practice subjects
  • 2 subjects identified by Mechanical Engineering students: 2.005/ 2.006 series (Thermal Fluids I and II)
  • 1 core subject identified by EECS students: 6.004 (Computation Structures)


  • 2.005/ 2.006 Thermo-fluids I and II
  • Lecture and learning goal clarity
  • Continuity in learning goals, concepts, books(!) between 2.005 and 2.006 theory and lab content
  • One year of ‘continuity’ helped student absorb and reinforce learning of complex
  • Lectures presented concepts verbally and numerically
  • Labs visually reinforced concepts with visual, hands on representations
  • Though sometimes too much was due at one time, problem sets and lab write-ups were clearly connected
  • Students were given many types of problems and examples to illustrate concepts. They were given many opportunities to try out problem solving in psets and labs.
  • A design project that was not just an add-on, waste of time! “You really had to design something!”
  • Engaged, approachable instructors “made me want to work really hard. I felt that they really cared if I learned the material!”


  • 2.005/ 2.006 Thermal Fluids Engineering I and II
  • http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/2/sp04/2.005 and
  • http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/2/sp04/2.006
  • Integrating knowledge areas is key feature.
  • From website: “The guiding pedagogical principle behind this curriculum reform in thermal-fluid science, is that fluid mechanics, heat transfer and thermodynamics are intimately connected to each other, and that the material should be presented as such (for example, the common dorm room 'cube refrigerator' relies on the thermodynamics of the 'Rankine cycle' to provide refrigeration, but the design of the actual mechanical system that implements this cycle relies on the calculation of the heat transfer from the cooling fins and coils and pressure changes of the refrigerant in the metal tubing and compressor).”
instructor interviews 2 005 2 006 1
Instructor interviews: 2.005/ 2.006 - 1
  • Professors John Brisson and Gareth McKinley (key subject designer, Ernie Cravalho not available at press time!)
  • 2.005/ 2.006 development key to success of class.
    • Classes were developed as part of curriculum revision a few years ago. Key goal of revision was to integrate knowledge areas so that students could more easily create intellectual bridges between theory and practice.
    • Prior to this class, students could only solve simple numerical problems in each knowledge area. Goal was to enable students to solve complex, real-world problems that integrated knowledge areas.
  • Fundamentals-oriented class, 2.005, integrates fluid mechanics, heat transfer, and thermodynamics.
    • Students learn the building blocks of thermal fluid systems. Simple applications provide concrete examples to support learning.
instructor interviews 2 005 2 006 2
Instructor interviews: 2.005/ 2.006 - 2
  • In 2.005, instructor presents theory as a ‘toolkit’ of integrated concepts for solving practical problems.
    • Concepts are presented with clear examples in class.
    • Problem sets use toolkit concepts in solving real-world problems.
      • Example: design a system to measure acidity of a battery.
      • Example: design a solar panel with battery for power generation.
  • Applications-oriented class, 2.006, follows 2.005 to reinforce fundamentals through analysis of complex power systems.
    • Students ‘put blocks (learned in 2.005) together’ in analysis of complex applications.
  • Both subjects consciously balance time spent on fundamentals and applications. For example, in 2.006: every 2 hours of theory are balanced with 1 hour of applications presentation and discussion.
  • 2.005 and 2.006 are designed as a set. Students review 2.005 material at beginning of 2.006.
instructor interviews 2 005 2 006 3
Instructor interviews: 2.005/ 2.006 - 3
  • Grades and grading in 2.005/ 2.006
    • Psets and design project are 15% or 20%- graded by undergrad graders
    • Quizzes are 40%- or 45% graded by faculty
    • Final exam is 40%- graded by faculty
  • Teaching methods
    • Faculty have to think about material in a new way to teach the class. Most faculty learned thermo, heat transfer, fluid mechanics separately. It’s difficult to teach material as integrated. Faculty need to be trained.
    • Faculty are excited about subject, show they work hard on teaching class and office hours with students.
    • Students are given the feeling they’re important to instructors.
    • Very motivating for students to work hard.
    • While not hands-on, students take trips to power plants in 2.006. Then address these systems in class and in homework.
    • Time! Time spent in subject preparation and time with students is high. 6-8 hours prepping for each lecture. Significant office hours.

6.004 was considered as nearly the ‘ideal learning experience’ by many. Why?

  • 6.004 Computation Structures
  • Lecture clarity/ students wanted to go to lecture even though they were tired
  • Lab assignments were clear and carefully structured
  • Lab equipment worked
  • Lab grading was fair; if a student carefully demonstrated mastery for each lab,
  • But workload seemed low relative to other subjects since factors related to high perceived workload were missing
  • Students felt guilty about this learning experience since they didn’t suffer!
instructor interview 6 004 1
Instructor interview: 6.004 - 1
  • Professor Chris Terman of EECS. (Designed subject with Professor Stephen Ward of EECS.)
  • Introduces students to how computers work. “Everyone wants to know this so the topic is already motivating to students.”
  • Emphasizes structural principles common to wide range of digital systems.
  • Introduces engineering of digital systems including design implementation strategies and functioning of internal components.
  • Emphasizes hands on learning in understanding of components that make up digital systems through series of 10 labs that culminate in major design project.
  • Well designed website supports student learning. Tutorial problems let students work problems on their own time. Problems are not graded. http://6.004.lcs.mit.edu/6.004
instructor interview 6 004 2
Instructor interview: 6.004 - 2
  • Designed subject with 3 issues in mind:
    • “real world engineering design”
    • “something for everyone in demonstrating performance”
    • “sophomore readiness” for complex engineering subject.
  • Instructors have fine tuned the class over years by reading student comments on surveys.
  • Real world design: many subjects have students complete only small, simple portion of an engineering project. In 6.004, students start “from scratch,” learn about all components in a digital system and design one by the end of the subject.
instructor interview 6 004 3
Instructor interview: 6.004 - 3
  • Carefully structured subject brings students through:
    • methodologies of digital system design
    • how each component works are presented in lecture and reinforced in 10 lab projects
    • students are tested in 5 quizzes spaced over term
    • and final project brings it all together.
    • Grading is absolute! Students need to achieve a certain number of points to get an A. Students who prefer exams or hands on project work can still demonstrate proficiency.
  • Timing is everything! Lectures, labs, exams are all coordinated.
  • Staffing is everything! Office hours are held in labs rather than in faculty offices so there is a focus on students.
learning and performance student perceptions
Learning and Performance: Student Perceptions
  • Students differed markedly in their perceptions of how exams and problem set grades reflected their individual learning
  • Some felt only exams were valid measures of their own performance
  • Others felt that only psets were valid measures
  • Key issues included: test taking ability, fear of tests, time limits of tests, poorly written exams, difficulty of exam versus pset questions
  • Bottom line: Different types of learners need different forms of assessment to demonstrate performance
  • Students can work very hard studying for exams or completing problem sets and feel, at the end, that their effort is not always rewarded appropriately
  • Sense of lack of fairness and clarity in exam and pset writing also a factor in student perceptions
reflection and learning student perceptions
Reflection and learning: student perceptions
  • . On average, I only review material: before an upcoming exam: 65% mech eng respondents, 78% EECS 6-2 respondents
  • On average, I review material before and during problem set completion: 14% Mech eng respondents, 11% EECS 6-2 respondents
  • No time to review! It’s on to the next assignment!
  • When workload is lower, students agreed that they will spend more time reviewing material
motivation workload
  • Focus group students in Mech Eng, like EECS, were deeply committed to learning engineering. Many planned on working in or continuing education in engineering.
  • This motivation led students to work many hours in learning theory, completing labs and design projects.
  • Departments with many lab or design subjects were not appropriately balancing these subjects with other subjects.
  • For the students with highest workload, for students who were not as capable at absorbing knowledge at a high pace, and students who were not great test takers, there was a sense of frustration that though capable, the system worked against them.

Relationship of student workload to curriculum and assessment

Curriculum (clarity of goals, content, teaching methods, assignments, student/ faculty interactions)

Individual student characteristics: risk taker, grade driven, learning style, social, career goals

Student workload: real and perceived

Assessment methods (types, frequency, performance as reflection of learning)


Types and frequency of assessment are key; psets versus exams

Risk taker: Not afraid of exams

Grade driven: some students feel performance is paramount- and realize that this can be at the expense of learning

Reworking the issue of psets and copying to ensure psets reflect individual performance

Individual student characteristics: hands on learner, risk taker, grade driven, learning style, social, career goals

Learning style: some students absorb new knowledge and problems and slower pace; they must complete all problems (and more) to feel comfortable with new material

Clarity of content and

problem solving methods,

frequency of assignments

in high pace

classes is crucial


Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Design and labs, while the most motivating learning experiences, are also the most time consuming. Ensure that large group active learning experiences are clear, efficient. Balance these experiences with theory subjects and needed ability to manipulate concepts, math, equations

Realistically, everybody learns more with visual, hands on learning

Individual student characteristics: hands on learner, risk taker, grade driven, learning style, social, career goals

Instructors can engage class in material in both lectures and assignment feedback.

Social: preference for group work; connection with instructors

Career goals: engineering or not; research or not; motivated students learn by whatever means available!

Motivated students work harder anyway; engage them in activities that illustrate relevance.

next steps
Next steps….

Ultimate goal?: develop a comprehensive teaching / learning model that identifies key factors for faculty and that is appropriate to MIT engineering students.

soe education website
SoE education website
  • According to DUE, instructors rarely use learning objectives as part of surveys
  • Do faculty actually write any learning objectives?
  • http://web.mit.edu/engineering/ecue
  • How might the SoE website be used to improve writing and use of learning objectives as a learning tool?
  • If we build Workload findings into site?