The American Association of Community Colleges, with NSF support, will hold the 22nd annual ATE Principal Investigators Conference, bringing together approximately 850 people to focus on the critical issues related to advanced technological education.
This Advanced Technological Education project conducted by the Concord Consortium and Tide Water Community College will help to teach students of electronics how to work effectively in teams, both face-to-face and remotely online. The ability to work together online is uniquely relevant to a 21st century workplace that spans continents and crosses oceans. Employers repeatedly cite collaboration and communication as critically important skills for new entrants to the STEM workforce, yet schools and colleges continue to have difficulty evaluating student work other than by individual test-taking ability. The project is addressing the critical mismatch between the value of teamwork, especially online teamwork, in a modern STEM workplace, and the difficulty of teaching students to collaborate while also evaluating them individually. In a time of chronic unemployment and under-employment, strong demand exists for trained electronics technicians who are able to work effectively in teams. This project addresses the problem of collaboration skills highly-valued in the workforce being difficult to measure in educational environments in which performance and grades are assigned individually.
Supported by simulation technology created by an earlier NSF award, this project will advance the field by gathering and analyzing time-series data from teams of students working in a shared online workspace on realistic tasks representative of those found in the STEM work environment. The project is based on existing software that creates realistic simulations of electronic components and circuit boards that are linked together over the Internet and used to build and troubleshoot a resulting distributed circuit. The project will monitor students' actions as they work together, analyze the data produced, and report on the performance of each individual student, as well as that of the team as a whole. Analysis is based on using hidden Markov models to describe sequential interactions of the data from teams captured in both computer-generated logs and classroom observations. The data comprise actions, such as the modification of a circuit, measurements made with simulated test equipment, and written or oral communications. Patterns of actions are found that serve as markers for effective collaboration. This approach reduces the need for continuous supervision by an instructor and enables instructors to recognize and reward talent, work ethic, and collaborative and cognitive skills. Team members need not be co-located and work may be done by team members in an asynchronous fashion, mimicking conditions frequently encountered in the modern work environment.
This project will yield information regarding effective methods to assess both individual and team effectiveness for students participating in online collaborative laboratories. The information learned can apply to the teaching and assessment of collaborative problem-solving skills generally and are not restricted to the field of electronics. It is anticipated that evaluation of the project results will find application in the teaching and assessing of teamwork in a variety of other domains.