Third time is the charm: Management Engineering Case Days

MSCI 100, a first year Management Engineering course taught by Professor Ken McKay, introduces students to the main concepts of the discipline in their first term. The course’s main goals are to introduce the core principles that students will apply throughout their undergraduate studies and to prepare them for their first co-operative education term.

The course was pedagogically redesigned based on including authentic self-directed learning, and providing students with opportunities to develop their professional skills (especially teamwork, project planning, time management and critical thinking). Professional Skills and Communication were taught within the context of the specific discipline as recommended in [1]. The overhauled course is composed of several activities/deliverables for students to experience multiple constructive failure-recovery cycles as a way to teach students the advantages of making mistakes [2].

In this blog post I will talk about the ‘case days’ experience, one of the cornerstones of the course that I helped plan and facilitate with the course’s teaching team. Three ‘case days’ were designed to provide an intense and deep learning experience regarding problem-solving, teamwork, and project management. On each case day, students, in teams, were given the case study at 8:30 am, their final product was due by 4:30 pm. There were no other courses, lectures, labs, or tutorials on these days. The requirements were vague, the problem was ill-defined, and the students were given ample opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. Furthermore, not everything they needed to know had been taught in class and they had to teach themselves new material during these days. The students were expected to meet specific deadlines throughout the day and were given extensive rubrics. The student teams were assigned advisors (staff and faculty volunteers) who provided guidance throughout the day. The role of the advisors purposely diminished each case day. The teams eventually met requirements on their own, without any hand holding.

Student course evaluations were conducted in the prescribed way. In their evaluations, most of the students reported that they liked how the course was designed to foster their independent learning skills; this was evident to them during case days and hands-on projects where lots of ‘aha’ learning moments were achieved. They highlighted that they liked:

  • case days and how challenging they are
  • spending a whole day on MSCI 100
  • being encouraged to think
  • learning from their mistakes and improving
  • developing their team work and project planning skills

They also noted that:

  • cases related well to course material
  • cases allowed better understanding of the course as a whole
  • cases made it easier to learn VBA

In addition to what the students enjoyed in the course, some of them highlighted aspects that they thought needed improvement, they suggested to:

  • teach the material needed for case days
  •  shuffle the team members
  • change Samantha (our main case character)
  •  decrease amount of self learning
  •  decrease ambiguity

The student advisors witnessed the following:

  • Teams progressed from “groups” to “teams”. Throughout the case days, they learned each other’s strengths, weaknesses, how their different personalities meshed together, effective communication, roles, etc. By Day 3, their team building had successfully given them a foundation to problem-solve effectively.
  • Teaching teammates was one of the main skills that students developed as advisors always emphasized that every team member needed to be able to present all the work done by everyone, which was faced by students’ resistance initially. However, they really valued it by the end of the course.
  • Different advisors observed different time management skills in their teams, a couple of advisors noticed improvement in their teams’ time management skills based on their stress level. On Day 1, groups were highly stressed and struggling to meet deadlines while by Day 3, teams were much more relaxed and they handed in their work ahead of the deadlines. Another advisor noticed that time management was still a big challenge for their teams.
  • Generally the advisors stayed away from direct instructions and gave advice in the form of questions. On Day 1, this strategy seemed to incur more stress on the student teams since they were still working on building their professional skills and did not want to think the problem through on their own – they were hoping for some quick answers. By Day 3, they seemed to be more confident to take the open-ended advice and apply it to their work.
  •  On Day 1, student teams created project plans because this was a mandated deliverable. However, it was evident to most advisors that minimal thought went into the plan and it was sensed that students had no real intention of referring back to their original plans during execution. Luckily, teams realized their mistake at the end of Day 1 and from then on, the time spent in developing and adhering to their project plans was much more rigorous.

If you would like to know more about this experience, please refer to our paper  [3] or contact me

References

  1. Julia Pet-Armacost and Robert L. Armacost, “Enhancing communication and professional practice skills in an introductory engineering course,” in Proc. Frontiers in Education Conf., FIE2003, vol. 2, pp.10-15, 2003.
  2. Oscar Nespoli, William Owen, Colin Campbell, and Steve Lambert, “Engineering case study implementation: Observations, results and perspectives,” in Proc. ASEE American Society for Engineering Education Conf., (Austin, TX; 14-17 June 2009), 12 pp., 2009.
  3. K. Mckay, S. Mohamed, L. Stacey, “Concepts Only Please! Innovating a First Year Engineering Course,” in Canadian Engineering Education Conference, Halifax, 2016.

Why Assignments Matter — Francis Poulin, Department of Applied Mathematics

Mathematics is axiomatic. It begins with definitions and then builds on these using inductive arguments to see what properties can be deduced. This is not only true for Calculus or Algebra, but virtually all branches of Mathematics. Lectures (or textbooks) in mathematics begin with definitions, derive theories from these definitions, and often have exercises on the material to test one’s understanding. Continue reading Why Assignments Matter — Francis Poulin, Department of Applied Mathematics

Gender Identity, Pronouns, and Lifelong Learning – Tommy Mayberry, Instructional Developer

A sign that says, "I am still learning."There might be two fundamental things to know about me to avoid conversational confusion. First, I’m a drag queen: I visually present on an almost day-to-day basis as masculine, but I identify under the transgender banner because my embodied identity oscillates across the gender binary and my proper pronouns are he/him/his, she/her/hers, and they/them/theirs. Second, my partner and I have the same name: each is Tommy (born “Thomas” with a birth certificate to confirm), and together we are the Tommies. I say these two things might be fundamental to know about me to avoid confusion in conversation because while I do not speak about myself in the third person (if you hear me say “Tommy,” you would do well to assume I mean my partner), people do speak about me, and they speak about me with a variety of pronouns that fit me and align with who I am. This has proven to be very puzzling to some folks at several times (my dear 85-year-old grandma has finally got the knack of “the Tommies,” but that plurality for her is my partner and me, not myself and I). I love this perplexity because in life as in teaching, this is an opportunity for learning.

In teaching language studies specifically, a grammar lesson in parts of speech and number agreements would seem to be an appropriate exercise for first-year Undergraduates; it may not, though, seem immediately fitting for first-year non-language courses or even upper-year language courses where the knowledge and understanding are assumed to be established and built upon. But it is. The refresher of a language exercise like the one below not only reaffirms language and communication skills for learners but opens the window to an opportunity for learning that is wider than a grammar primer.

Continue reading Gender Identity, Pronouns, and Lifelong Learning – Tommy Mayberry, Instructional Developer

Wrapping to Uncover Learning – Monica Vesely

Many of us have likely heard the term wrapper or cognitive wrapper used when discussing ways to help our students in becoming more independent and self-aware learners. In particular, this term comes up when discussing assessment as a learning opportunity. So what exactly is a cognitive wrapper and how can it be used to aid learning?

In brief, a cognitive wrapper is a tool to guide students before, during or after a teaching and learning event to help them identify their own approaches to the teaching and learning event and what aspects of their behavior are productive and which aspects are not. It encourages students to purposefully examine what they can and should change so as to improve the teaching and learning experience. Wrappers are a structured way to guide students through a reflective process that increases their self-awareness and leads to a modification of behavior through self-regulation.

Continue reading Wrapping to Uncover Learning – Monica Vesely

A Day of Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning

What drives curiosity in our classrooms? Can curiosity be fostered or taught? These were just a few of the questions on the table at the University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference on April 27. Our ninth annual conference, this year’s event brought together over 320 participants from across all Faculties at Waterloo and neighbouring universities to explore the role curiosity plays in teaching and learning. University of Waterloo’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Feridun Hamdullahpur, opened the conference with a territory acknowledgment and shared personal reflections on teaching and learning that highlighted the connections between this year’s conference theme, Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning, and last year’s conference, Learning from Challenge and Failure.

Curiosity is at the heart of inquiry and exploration and is a powerful motivator for learning. It speaks to our innate interest in seeking out novel ideas, and applies well to the learning process our students engage in every day. Curiosity also has real-life consequences—psychological research demonstrates that curiosity is linked to greater well-being (e.g., life satisfaction and expressing gratitude) and can also serve as positive motivation—studies show that curiosity can lead people to ask more questions, explore novel stimuli, and persevere when faced with difficult tasks. Continue reading A Day of Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning

Debunking the Learning Styles Myth – Crystal Tse

Photo of a person's brain outlined into aidfferent sections
Image provided by William Creswell under the Creative Commons “Attribution” license.

Franz Josef Gall was a neuroscientist in the 1700s who developed phrenology, a field that attributed specific mental functions to different parts of the brain (i.e., that certain bumps on a person’s head would indicate their personality traits). This field has since then been widely discredited as pseudoscience. It is often comforting to be able to categorize things and put people into neat boxes, and phrenology is one example of this tendency. Learning styles is another example.

The idea of learning styles began in the 1970s, where a growing literature and industry posited that learners have specific, individualized ways of learning the work best for them. There are many different theories of learning styles, including ones that classify people as visual, auditory, or tactile learners, or ones that outline different cognitive approaches people take in their learning.

However, there is virtually no evidence that supports that individuals have learning styles, nor that when taught in a way that “meshes” with their learning style that there is greater learning. A group of psychologists reviewed the literature and in their report on learning styles state that while there have been studies done on how individuals can certainly have preferences for learning, almost none of the studies employed rigorous research designs that would demonstrate that people benefit if they are instructed in a way that matches their learning style. In a recent study, Rogowsky and colleagues conducted an experimental test of the meshing hypothesis and found that matching the type of instruction to learning style did not make a difference on students’ comprehension of material. Furthermore, certain teaching strategies are best suited for all learners depending on the material that is being taught – learning how to make dilutions in a chemistry course, for example, requires a hands-on experiential approach, even if you have a preference to learn from reflection!

Instead of fixating on learning styles, I recommend we instead focus on engaging our learners in and outside the class (by using active learning strategies where appropriate – there is good evidence that active learning benefits learners in STEM classrooms, for example). As instructors we can also try vary our teaching methods so all students have a way into the material. Lastly, learning doesn’t always have to feel easy – research from growth mindsets shows us that feeling challenged and failure itself is important for students’ learning and growth.

Why It Seems Like Your Students Can’t Write — Stephanie White

Whenever I talk with instructors here about how my job is to support them in their writing and communication instruction, I hear some version of the same response: “My students are brilliant, but they can’t write a sentence to save their lives!” No matter whom I’m talking to, regardless of discipline, job title, teaching experience, linguistic background, educational background, or teaching load, nearly everyone has the same anxieties around the role of communication in their courses. But I’m always glad to have the chance to talk about these concerns. If you’re one of those instructors I’ve talked with about teaching writing and communication in your discipline, you’ve probably seen my eyes light up as I eagerly launch into my spiel about the research on teaching writing and communication across the curriculum.

You: “My students are smart, but they can’t write!” Continue reading Why It Seems Like Your Students Can’t Write — Stephanie White