C&I professors to collaborate on NSF-funded grant

by the College of Education at Illinois   /   Sep 20, 2016

Emma Mercier and Luc Paquette, both assistant professors in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, have received a $1.35 million National Science Foundation Cyberlearning and Future Learning Technologies grant for a study that will explore how tools to manage the teaching of collaborative activities can be developed and used to support collaborative problem-solving in core engineering courses.

The four-year study will also focus on whether receiving collaboration prompts during collaborative problem-solving improves students’ collaboration skills and learning experiences.

Mercier, the principal investigator of the project, said there is a growing need to educate teaching assistants on how to teach collaboration skills as STEM disciplines increasingly recognize the importance of using collaborative, problem-solving tasks in introductory courses. She added that supporting students during these learning activities is equally important.

“One particularly novel aspect of this project is the use of data analytics to mine the way that students are using the collaboration tools, and exploring whether we can assess their collaborative interactions and provide appropriate prompts while they’re working, thus improving their learning experiences,” Mercier said.

The project builds upon the work of Mercier’s previous NSF-funded grant on Cyberlearning, which focused on the research and design of collaborative sketch tools for engineering courses. In that study, Mercier and her collaborators found that students struggled to work collaboratively, and that the teaching assistants needed assistance in intervening when groups were having issues. 

For this new project, Mercier and Paquette will collaborate with Mariana Silva Sohn, a lecturer and curriculum development coordinator in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering. The three scholars will work with engineering students in the Illinois Digital Ecologies and Learning Laboratory (IDEALL), located in the Education building.

Working in the IDEALL space will allow the researchers to capture audio and video of all the groups being studied, as well as the teaching assistants as they move between groups.

“As we develop the tools for the students and teaching assistants, collecting data on all groups will allow us to understand how the TAs and students respond to prompts, and what effect they have on the groups’ interactions and learning experiences,” said Mercier.

Read the abstract of the project “DIP: Improving Collaborative Learning in Engineering Classes through Integrated Tools.”