If the survey of your students indicates that they are not practicing the behaviors you believe are essential for
success in engineering study, the next question is whether you believe you can do something about it. Changing student
behaviors and attitudes is no easy task. I hope I can persuade you that the approach outlined below will work and
that you will put it into practice in your classes.
INTRODUCTION TO ENGINEERING COURSE
Although working with engineering students on "success issues" can be accomplished through a variety of
structures including summer bridge programs, orientation sessions, and formal and informal one-on-one advising and
mentoring, perhaps the most effective structure is an academic year course having a primary focus on student development.
Such a course represents a "tool," and like any tool, it will only accomplish what it is capable of when
it is in the hands of a skilled craftsperson. A recent article in ASEE PRISM titled "From Sleep 101 to
Success 101" points to the capacity of Introduction to Engineering courses to be either ineffective or effective
in impacting engineering student success.
The article puts it well:
"In its most dreaded form, this crucial introduction to the engineering major has relegated freshmen to a
seat in row ZZZ of a cavernous lecture hall where they quickly perfected the skill of dozing with both eyes open
while a series of departmental chairpersons earnestly extolled the merits of their particular disciplines."
Fortunately, as many engineering programs are revamping their freshman year curriculum, they are reexamining their
Introduction to Engineering course and many are transforming the course into a powerful tool for boosting student
success. Realizing this potential, however, requires engineering faculty who want to learn how to be that "skilled
Being a "skilled craftsperson" in the teaching of such a course requires both a vision and also the capability
to deliver on that vision. The vision as I see it is best stated as the following:
If I can have 30 or 40 hours with a group of students, I can create a major "life-changing"
experience for those students - one that will significantly
enhance their success.
This is a lofty vision, one that will best be accomplished if the instructor adopts a "student-centered"
pedagogy that is designed to provide students with exposure through experiential learning to a "success"
behavior. When students experience a behavior that works, there is a good chance that it will become habitual. The
following section discusses such a pedagogy.
PEDAGOGY FOR CHANGE
Changing student attitudes and behaviors is a five-step sequential process:
Establishing a baseline - Survey students to assess whether or not
they are currently practicing the success behavior to the extent desired. This can be as simple as asking for a show
of hands ("How many of you visit your professors during their office hours to seek advice or to obtain one-on-one
instruction?"), or through more sophisticated methods such as written surveys, personal interviews, etc.
Delivering knowledge - Provide students with information and knowledge
about why they should put the behavior into practice and how to best go about it (e.g., Discuss human relations principles
regarding how one can be effective in approaching someone in a higher position in an organization than them.). Delivering
knowledge is what we are best at, so dont hold back. The knowledge can come from reading assignments, from lectures
by the instructor, from guest speakers, from videos, from assignments to interview others (upperclass students, faculty,
alumni, industry representatives, etc.)
Building commitment - Work with students with the goal of gaining
their willingness to try out the behavior. Start by having an in-class discussion on what the students think of the
knowledge you have brought to them. An important part of building commitment involves working with students on their
resistance to putting the behavior into practice (e.g., "Why dont you see your professors during their
Requiring implementation - Assign the students the task of putting
the behavior into practice. (e.g., "Make up a list of questions you can ask one of your professors about herself
and visit her during her office hours and ask those questions.")
Processing the outcomes - Provide students with an opportunity to
"process" what happened, both introspectively (e.g., "Write a one-page critique of what happened.")
and/or through class discussions. During class discussion, try to get students talking to each other so they can learn
from each others experience.
EXAMPLE - EFFECTIVE
USE OF ONES PEERS
Lets illustrate this pedagogy with an example. In our Introduction to Engineering class, we decide to determine
whether our students are making effective use of their peers by engaging in group study and collaborative learning.
Step 1 - Establishing a baseline
Ask the class, "How many of you spend some fraction of your study time studying with at least one other student?"
Then ask the class, "How many of you spend virtually 100% of your study time studying by yourself?"
If your experience matches mine, youll find that only a small fraction of freshman engineering students engage
in group study with other students. If you verify this to be the case, then you can move to Step 2.
Step 2 - Delivering knowledge
Have students read articles on the efficacy of collaborative learning. Section 3.4 (pp. 78-84) of Studying Engineering
(Reference 2) would suffice for this purpose. The section there presents the idea that there are only two learning
structures: 1) solitary; and 2) collaborative (i.e., either you do it alone or you do it with someone else), and that
collaborative learning has three distinct advantages:
Youll be better prepared for the engineering "work world"
Youll learn more
Youll enjoy studying more
Give the class your perspective on the value of collaborative learning. Discuss how to go about it including some
of the pitfalls to watch out for. Bring in an upperclass student or recent graduate who studied with other students
to give his or her perspectives.
Step 3 - Building commitment
Ask the class what they think of the knowledge you have brought to them. Ask those who indicate they study alone,
"Why? Why, dont you study with other students?" Have those students who indicated they engage in group
study relate why these reasons have not kept them from doing so. Seek agreement from those who are studying 100% alone
that they will try out studying with other students, if only as an experiment.
Step 4 - Requiring implementation
Give the class the following assignment:
Identify a study partner in one of your key classes.
Within the next two weeks, get together with that person for at least a two-hour study session.
Write a one-page critique of what happened.
Come to class two weeks from today prepared to share what happened with others in the class.
Step 5 - Processing the outcomes
At the designated class, lead a discussion about what happened. Have several students read their one-page critiques
aloud. Ask other students to tell what happened during their collaborative learning session. Seek to find out not
only what worked, but what didnt work. Try to get a discussion going among students rather than just from each
student to you. Refrain from giving your views on each comment. Turn issues that come up back to the class (e.g.,
"Does anyone have an idea about that one?")
Collect the one-page critiques and review them. If appropriate, discuss what was learned from them at the next class.
If it seems that additional knowledge has been brought forth and the level of resistance has been reduced during Step
5, you may want to return to Step 4 (i.e., assign the class to repeat the assignment).
Through the pedagogy discussed in this paper, you can bring about significant changes in the attitudes and behaviors
of your students. At the end of your Introduction to Engineering course, you can check it out. Ask the class
questions such as:
How many of you have devoted considerably more time and effort to your studies this term than in previous terms
because of what we have done in this class?
How many of you used to cram for tests and are now scheduling your study time and adopting the principle that
you master the material presented in each class session before the next class session?
How many of you used to do all of your studying alone and are now studying with other students on a regular
basis and thats working for you?
How many of you never went to see your professors outside of class and are now receiving one-on-one instruction
from your professors on a regular basis and thats working for you?
How many of you used to come to campus only to attend your classes and are now spending more time on campus
and using the resources available to you?
How many of you had no involvement with engineering student organizations and are now actively participating?
When all the hands go up as you ask these questions, I guarantee you will feel good about the fact that you have
made a significant difference in the lives of your students and in their success. More than once, I have had students
come up to me and say: "I was making a 2.5 GPA, and since I started putting the principles you taught us in ENGR
100 class into effect Im making straight As." It could happen to you!
1. Landis, Raymond B., Studying Engineering: A Road Map to a Rewarding Career, Discovery Press, Burbank,
CA, 1995 (Available through Legal Books Distributing, 4247 Whiteside St., Los Angeles, CA 90063, Telephone: 1-800-200-7110)
2. Landis, Raymond B., "Building Student Commitment to Engineering," 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings,
Washington, D.C., June, 1996.
3. Landis, Raymond B., "Improving Student Success Through a Model Introduction to Engineering Course:
Dissemination Document for NSF Course and Curriculum Development Project," California State University, Los
Angeles, 1995 (Available from the author)
4. Ercolano, Vincent, "From Sleep 101 to Success 101," ASEE PRISM, pp. 25-29, September, 1995.