Assessment and Evaluation
 
First-year Engineering Learning Communities Improve Retention at Texas A&M University

At Texas A&M University (A&M), the restructured, college-wide first-year program was implemented in 1998. Learning communities in which students take two or more of their required first-year science, engineering, and mathematics courses together in groups of one hundred are a feature that built on the experiences of the first-year prototype curricula. Learning communities value diversity, are accessible to all interested individuals, and bring real world situations into the engineering classroom. Their key components are: (1) clustering of students in common courses (math, engineering, science); (2) teaming; (3) active/cooperative learning; (4) industry involvement in the classroom; (5) technology-enhanced classrooms; (6) undergraduate peer teachers; (7) curriculum integration; (8) faculty team teaching; and (9) assessment and evaluation. Learning communities, since they facilitate social relationships in a context directly connected with the classes students are taking, should increase retention and encourage students to continue in their first-year classes as a coherent unit. Based on the experience with its pilot curricula and the experiences since institutionalization in 1998-99, A&M believes that learning communities offer a superior educational experience for engineering students.

Improved Retention: As shown below, students who participate in learning communities (With LC) are retained in engineering at a much higher rate than similar students who do not participate in learning communities (Without LC) during their first year at A&M.

retention1

More Rapid Progress toward Graduation: In addition to retaining students at a higher rate, learning communities also promote more rapid progress toward graduation. The graph below shows the percentage of the students prepared to enter sophomore engineering courses. At every point in time, the percentage of students who participated in learning communities (With LC) is greater than the percentage of students who did not participate in learning communities (Without LC).

retention1

Improved Attitudes toward Teamwork and Integration: In the 2000 cohort, students who participated in learning communities for both semesters (LC2) scored more positively on questions about working in teams and recognizing the integration of mathematics and science in their engineering courses than students who did not participate in learning communities in either semester. Scores were based on the Engineering Perception Test (EPT) given at the end of the first year.

Foundation Coalition References
Caso, R., Clark, C., Froyd, J., Inam, A., Kenimer, A., Morgan, J., and Rinehart, J. (2002). "A Systemic Change Model in Engineering Education and its Relevance for Women" Proceedings, 2002 ASEE Conference, Montreal, Canada