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New Year, New Study Habits?

Happy New Year!

Want to improve your study habits in 2008? Then take a little time to read about 5 bad (and too common) study habits to avoid (courtesy of Study Hacks). Also check my previous post on Efficient Studying for more study tips.

How NOT to use PowerPoint

A funny reminder of how NOT to use PowerPoint by comedian Don McMillan:

Appropriate for teachers and students

Webliography: PBL Resources

Among the most difficult aspects of getting started in problem-based learning (PBL) is figuring out what problems to use. These are some websites that provide sample problems for PBL:

PBL Clearinghouse – University of Delaware – Problems for English, Education and various Science courses.
Problem Samples from Republic Polytechnic in Singapore
PBL problems developed by University of California (Irvine) faculty
P.K. Rangachari – A Personal Casebook – Problems for biomedical science and liberal arts courses.

Case studies can be modified to use in PBL:

National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science Case Collection
The Engineering Case Library – Over 200 cases in multiple engineering disciplines.

The University of Delware also has video vignettes of common PBL group dynamics and how to bring out the best of those groups:

PBL Groups In Action Video Vignettes

Other sample problems are included in academic papers on PBL but are too numerous to include here.

Problem Based Learning (PBL)

PBL is a method where problems are presented at the beginning of the instructional cycle. The problem provides both the context and the stimulus for uncovering learning objectives. New information is not presented by the instructor, but acquired by the students through self-directed team learning. In addition to learning new information, PBL is concerned with students’ skill development and awareness of the learning and problem solving processes.

Because PBL has such diverse outcomes and can be implemented in many different ways, studies on the effectiveness of PBL are not conclusive. The most often cited downside of PBL is that the amount of knowledge acquired is slightly smaller than that acquired with traditional teaching methods (Prince, 2004). Nonetheless, the authors of various literature reviews and meta-analysis indicate there are some positive outcomes that can be expected from PBL:

· Long term retention of knowledge (Norman & Schmidt, 1992; Gijbels, et al.,2005).
· Improved student attitudes (Vernon & Blake, as cited in Prince, 2004)
· Improved study habits (Major & Palmer, 2001)

These outcomes are what keep instructors interested in the PBL approach. Still, implementing PBL requires a considerable investment of time and resources.

Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing some of the resources available to instructors interested in exploring the PBL approach.


Gijbels, D., Dochy, F., Van Den Bossche, P., & Segers, M. (2005). Effects of problem-based learning: A meta-analysis from the angle of assessment. Review of educational research, 75(1), 27-61.
Major, C. H., & Palmer, B. (2001). Assessing the effectiveness of problem-based learning in higher education: Lessons from the literature. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 5(1), 4.
Norman, G. R., & Schmidt, H. G. (1992). The psychological basis of problem-based learning: A review of the evidence. Academic medicine : journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 67(9), 557-565.
Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-232.

Web Tools for College Students

NextPath : Top Web Tools for College Students

I have only used a couple of these tools, but most seem interesting and useful. Check them out and decide what works for you.

Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech - Black Ribbon My prayers are with the Virginia Tech community and their families. My heart goes out to the all the families affected, in particular those of the two Latinos that died: Daniel Perez from Peru and Juan Ortiz from Puerto Rico.

More information [in Spanish] from the “El Nuevo Dia” newspaper about Juan Ortiz.

According to “El Nuevo Dia”, another Puerto Rican student Bianca Guach was hurt in the shooting.

UPDATE (5/17/07): I could not find another news outlet that corroborated the “El Nuevo Dia” (ENDI) story on Bianca Guach. All articles that mentioned this name referred to ENDI’s report. The name did not appear on VT’s student newspaper, “Collegiate Times”, list of confirmed injured. Nor did the name appear in the results of a People Search on the website . Students do have the right to remove their names from the school’s directory. Still, because of a lack of additional evidence, I suspect that the call ENDI received reporting a second Puerto Rican student hurt in the VT shootings was bogus. If anyone finds evidence to the contrary, feel free to e-mail me.

Webliography: Classroom assessment techniques for engineering courses

Engineering instruction needs to be transformed from a teaching centered activity to a learning centered activity. To facilitate that transformation engineering instructors can incorporate the use of techniques that assess what, how much and how well students are learning. In their seminal book “Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers” Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross documented 50 such classroom assessment techniques (CATs).

This webliography brings to the attention of engineering instructors resources on CATs that I hope will inform their teaching practices. Emphasis is placed on CATs that assess skill development and problem solving.

Introductions to Classroom Assessment Techniques

1. Classroom Assessment Techniques. (n.d.) Retrieved February 1, 2007, from

This page is hosted by Honolulu Community College. In this introduction to CATs, the Angelo and Cross framework is summarized. The characteristics, assumptions and suggestions for implementation are presented.

While the page gives the impression that it was written by Angelo and Cross there is no way to verify that. Still it is an adequate introduction to CATs for those instructors that do not have the time to read the Angelo and Cross book.

2. Classroom Assessment Techniques. (n.d.) Retrieved February 1, 2007, from

This website is hosted by the Undergraduate Assessment & Program Review at
Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. It contains basic concepts of assessment and introductions to some of the most popular CATs. Many other pages on CATs in the Web link to pages in this site.

The unconventional and inconsistent page design and navigation negatively impact the usability of this web site. But the information found in it is not available in web format elsewhere. Many of the CAT web modules provide an introduction to the particular technique, tips for implementation and a sample form.

3. Yee, K. (n.d.) Interactive Techniques. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from

This document was published by the Faculty Center at the University of Central Florida. It is part of their Assessment Resources pages. While the filename indicates 101 tips, the file actually contains short descriptions of 118 interactive assessment techniques.

This list includes a variety of techniques that go beyond the fifty original Angelo and Cross CATs. References documented. The document lacks implementation details and some activities do not yield assessment data.

4. Harrold, R. (n.d.). Problem Solving Skills. Retrieved February 1, 2007, from

This page is published by North Dakota State University’s Assessment Committee. It is an essay on assessing problem solving skills written by a member of the Committee. Drawing from the Angelo and Cross framework, the essay analyzes the use of techniques to assess problem solving skills in the classroom and at a distance.

Considerations for applicability and tips for implementation of the techniques are discussed. While this essay is not discipline specific, it provides valuable information for STEM teachers interested on improving assessment of problem solving skills.

5. Henderson, T. (2001, September). Classroom Assessment Techniques in Asynchronous Learning Networks. The Technology Source. Retrieved February 15, 2007, from

This paper was published in The Technology Source a peer-reviewed periodical. It is a case study on the use of a CAT in a distance learning course. The author describes the implementation, results and issues to consider.

Although short in length, this paper provides an idea of potential issues in the implementation of a CAT. The CAT, a variation of The One Minute Paper is very simple, but effective.

6. Schwarm, S. & VanDeGrift, T. (2003). Using Classroom Assessment to Detect Students’ Misunderstanding and Promote Metacognitive Thinking. Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS). Retrieved February 14, 2007, from

This paper was presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences 2002. It was written by Sarah Schwarm and Tammy VanDeGrift professors of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington. They studied the use of CATs to assess student understanding.

This is a rare document because it provides both the instructor’s and student’s perspectives on the use of CATs in engineering instruction. In addition, this document should be useful for instructors interested on increasing student’s metacognitive thinking.

7. Using PowerPoint to Facilitate Classroom Assessment Techniques. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2007, from

This page is published by the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota. It is part of a tutorial on Active Learning with PowerPoint. Four CATs are introduced and implemented using PowerPoint. The CATs are Focus Listing, Classroom Opinion Polls, Two Minute Paper and Muddiest Point.

The CATs presented in this page are among the most popular and well documented. This page does a great job of simplifying their implementation for any instructor.

Field Specific Resources

8. Best Practices in Assessment. (n.d.) Retrieved February 1, 2007, from

This page is published by the University of Kentucky’s (UK) Office of Assessment. Links on the page lead to the content presented in a seminar on Classroom Assessment Techniques held in Fall 2006. The content includes a PowerPoint presentation on CATs, a list of the 50 Angelo and Cross CATs with a two sentence description, CAT implementation reports by UK faculty and a short frequently asked questions section. Two of the CAT reports (#11 and #26) were prepared by a professor of Chemical and Materials Engineering.

Although brief, the contents of this page provide a well informed introduction to CATs. The PowerPoint presentation file and excerpt on the Dimensions of Learning give readers some background on the conceptual framework that support the CATs. From the list of Angelo and Cross’ CATs, teachers can decide whether to investigate the use of a specific technique. While CATs #11 and #26 are specific to chemical engineering, they could be adapted to other engineering fields as well. In all, the greatest value of this resource is in the general CAT information and not necessarily the engineering content.

9. Barone Martin, M. (1999) Classroom Assessment Techniques Designed for Technology. Retrieved February 15, 2007, from

This paper was published as part of the 1999 Proceedings of the Instructional Technology Conference at the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). It was written by Mary Barone Martin a professor of mathematics at MTSU.

The author did an excellent job of adapting some of the most commonly known CATs for implementation in technology courses. For example, she suggests how to use the double entry journal to identify a sample problem and document the problem solving process.

10. National Institute for Science Education (n.d.) Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide (FLAG). Retrieved January 25, 2007, from

The Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide (FLAG) is published by the National Institute for Science Education’s (NISE). It is based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a nationwide community of post-secondary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) educators. Within the FLAG website, there is a section for CATs applicable to college or university STEM courses. Each of the 13 CAT web module was written by an instructor who uses the technique and was reviewed by an editorial board.

Among the CAT resources for engineering courses reviewed in this webliography this the most comprehensive and useful. Each of the CAT web modules is well formatted and documented. In addition to the technique’s description and step-by-step instruction for implementation, each module presents an evaluation of the CAT, an explanation of the conceptual framework and references. But what really makes this page valuable is that all CATs are written within the context of STEM education. This makes very clear to STEM teachers the relevance of these techniques.


The resources presented in this webliography range from introductions to the concept of classroom assessment techniques to detailed descriptions of the implementation of CATs to STEM education. While all of these resources are based on the Angelo and Cross book, they provide valuable information for engineering teachers on: tips for specific implementations of CATs in engineering courses and the integration of active learning techniques. My hope is that these resources will give instructors simple and easy to implement ideas that will help them transform their engineering classes into learner centered environments.

Google Scholar

Researching articles? Try Google Scholar. It lets you search for scholarly work (articles, books, theses, etc) . Here is what is really great, each result:

  • links to a list of other articles that cite it (giving you more research leads)
  • can be exported to RefWorks or other bibliography manager (export needs to be setup)
  • links to related articles

In addition, the results page gives you a link to other articles written by the most relevant authors. Check the Scholar Help page for more information.

None of these features are new. Other databases like JSTOR, MUSE and ERIC (CSA) provide similar features, but I find Scholar to be a more user friendly and faster than other databases for initial research. It also searches across disciplines and databases.

There are some down sides to G-Scholar. The search strings must be very specific or you will get a lot of irrelevant results. You need to switch back to the USF library page to check availability of the article or book. [Some libraries do allow users to find the resource on their site, but it seems USF doesn't have that arrangement at this time]. G-Scholar can’t do category or subject descriptor searches.

Google Scholar is just one more tool to use when conducting research, but it should not be the only tool. Check the Library’s research subject guides for other tools.

Efficient Studying

Students have a difficult time assessing their own comprehension of new material. Often times we overestimate our understanding of class material and decide to spend less time studying. It is only when we get feedback (i.e. a grade!) from a homework or test that we realize that we didn’t understand the material as well as we thought. This common problem is often referred to as “the illusion of comprehension”.

To avoid this common trap Dr. Marilla Svinick, professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, recommends the GAMES model for efficient studying.

  • Goal-oriented study
    - Establish a learning goal for each study session. Example: “I will learn how to perform a simple linear regression” (instead of “I will read/complete exercises of chapter 8″)
  • Active studying
    - Do something with the material you are studying, other that reading it.
  • Meaningful and memorable studying
    - Create your own examples or try to connect this new material to previous knowledge.
  • Explaining the material in order to learn it
    - Put the ideas in you own words. Create your own summary or even better try to explain the concepts to someone else.
  • Self-monitoring
    - Time to check if you achieved your learning goal. Use your own questions or ask someone to quiz you on the material. What , if any, gaps need to be filled?

Higher Ed News

Education Secretary talks about the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education
Secretary Margaret Spellings talks about the plans to implement the Commission’s recommendations

Yale University to post courses on Web for free
Yale U. will post videos and some course materials of seven courses. The pilot project will start Fall 2007.

Some historically black colleges see declining enrollment
Of the 103 historically black colleges and universities, twenty-six recorded enrollment declines in the 1995-2004 period. This included a couple of elite black schools: Fisk and Tuskegee.