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Rose-Hulman Selected to Higher Education Consortium Promoting Reflection in Engineering Education

October 6, 2014

Cunningham Patrick 2011

Patrick Cunningham

Rose-Hulman has been selected to be part of a new consortium of 12 United States higher education colleges developing and promoting teaching practices to help engineering students reflect on their experiences.

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust granted $4.4 million to the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE), which is led by the University of Washington’s Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching.

This national effort focuses on first- and second-year engineering undergraduate students. The goal is to enhance their ability to learn, help a greater percentage complete their degrees, and ultimately foster a larger, more diverse, and better-prepared engineering workforce.

Reflection enhances these goals, according to Patrick Cunningham, PhD, associate professor of mechanical engineering and local principal investigator leading Rose-Hulman’s role in the consortium.

“Reflection is the process of reconsidering experiences, becoming aware of salient features, and processing them through specific lenses, which creates meaning and impacts future choices,” says Cunningham.

Ella Ingam, PhD, associate professor of biology and biomedical engineering, and Jay McCormack, PhD, associate professor of mechanical engineering, have joined Cunningham as part of the project management team implementing consortium activities.

In the first year, the emphasis is on documenting reflection activities already in use on the campuses and creating support for student reflection. Activities planned for the 2014-15 academic year include visiting each department and individual professors to document their reflective activities, and opportunities for professors to learn about reflection through a fall panel discussion with colleagues currently using reflection in their classes.

This winter will include a book discussion on “Creating Self-Regulated Learners,” by Linda Nilson, covering practical implementations. Workshops and seminars are planned next spring to highlight reflection, metacognition, or self-regulated learning.

Another key part of the work is campuses learning from each other, according to Cunningham. Other consortium members are Arizona State University, Bellevue College (Washington), California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Clarkson University (New York), Green River Community College (Washington), Georgia Institute of Technology, Highline College (Washington), Seattle Central College, Seattle University, Stanford University, and the University of Washington.

Rose-Hulman’s project management team will participate in regular conference calls with consortium leaders at the other schools. And, in the winter, Cunningham will participate in a consortium leadership meeting at the University of Washington.  

While developing a plan for how to expand their reflection activities in the second year, each school -- in collaboration with consortium staff -- will additionally compile a guide that explains reflection practices in use at their institution to inform colleagues and others in higher education.

 “Applied to educational experiences, reflection can deepen learning and lead to better monitoring and regulation of learning processes. In other words, it helps students learn better and to take conscious control of their own learning. Developing the skills and habits of reflection helps students to adapt to new problems and to become lifelong learners,” states Cunningham.

The 12 schools will involve nearly 250 educators that will collect data on 18,000 student experiences. Rose-Hulman will receive $200,000 over the next two academic years to fund campus programs that document and share current reflection practices employed by faculty. New reflective student activities will be developed and assessed.

Project leaders expect the consortium's work will be useful across all disciplines in higher education. The practice of taking a broader view of learning by emphasizing reflection is something that can benefit all students and their educators, regardless of the field.

"The Trust is delighted to support such a diverse group of schools in this effort to increase our nation's engineering capacity," says Ryan Kelsey, program officer for higher education at the Helmsley Charitable Trust. "Helping first- and second-year students reflect on what it means to be an engineer as they learn foundational concepts is a very promising strategy for attracting and retaining a larger and more diverse future engineering workforce."