The research method employed for the formative assessment part of the NSF project is a mixed method research design. Qualitative research methods determine how the civil and environmental engineering (CEE) program change occurs as a result of the NSF project, document analysis of student assessment ascertains how student learning is affected, and survey methods reveal attitudes and efficacy of undergraduate CEE students. The overarching research questions guiding the educational research part of the project are:
- How do the CEE faculty work to enhance their program and curriculum plans?
- How do CEE faculty teach a systems approach for engineering problem definition and solution to students?
- How does the civil and environmental engineering program changes influence students learning and efficacy?
- Is there a change in student retention in the civil or environment programs as a result of implementing this change?
To determine how CEE faculty work to reform their program, planning meetings and discussions were observed and participant observation field notes were taken. Easton's System's Analytic Framework (Wirt & Kirst, 1997) was used a framework to code the data.
To understand how CEE faculty taught a system's approach for engineering, we first collected baseline data of how current civil engineering courses are taught. Observations of ECE faculty teaching CE 1, CE 160 and CE140 occurred during Autumn, 2005. These CEE classes were videotaped and transcribed. Observational data that occurred during the academic year 2005-2006 provides baseline data to determine the extent of the changes in how undergraduate students were taught engineering topics. The baseline course observation data also provides a contrast to the implementation of core course changes that use a system's approach for teaching engineering. CEE faculty responsible for teaching the core courses in the program were interviewed and observed to determine their ideas for effective engineering teaching and learning. The Reformed Teacher Observation Protocol (RTOP) served as framework to code these data. Evaluations of in-class assessments and syllabi also served as data to determine changes in the CEE program and teaching.
To determine how CEE program changes influence student learning and efficacy we have conducted a first-year student experience survey with the engineering students for classes of 2007, 2008, and 2009. We have also collected samples of undergraduate student work to determine what students are learning about civil and environmental engineering topics. These data will be compared to normalized gains from in-class assessments and longitudinal survey data after CEE program reform has been implemented.
We have also collected baseline institutional data on recruitment, retention, GPA, SAT scores, and student demographics do help determine retention rates of women and minorities.