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ASEE Connections

July 2018




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ASEE’s Retention and Time-to-Graduation Survey tracks retention rates undergraduate engineering programs every two years. As expected, the persistence and graduation to the second year has increased over the last survey cycle, and it varies depending on race and ethnicity.

Note: We used upper decile and lower decile instead of maximum and minimum as boundaries in the figures, as some schools either didn’t report or reported very few students for certain ethnic groups.

Figure 1. Persisted to 2nd Year

Figure 2. Graduated Within 4 Years





Figure 3. Graduated Within 6 Years







A letter sent to Apple and Google by several Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee asks the two top tech companies to give them more information on how regularly their smartphones keep track of users and record bits of their conversations, the Washington Post reports. The letter was sent to Tim Cook, the Apple CEO, and Larry Page, head of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. It notes that the committee is “reviewing the business practices that may impact the privacy expectations of Americans.” The lawmakers ask the tech execs for more detailed information about how their phones scoop up data at unexpected times, such as when the devices are in “airplane mode” or their SIM chip card has been removed. The letter also asks how much audio data the phones’ voice assistants collect, even when they’ve not been triggered with the phrases “Hey Siri” or “OK Google,” the Post says. Apple has said in the past that users can disable Siri, but personal assistants need to listen constantly to know when trigger words are used so that they can function. Finally, the committee members’ letter also asks how the companies police app makers on what data they can collect and share, the article notes.



Back in April, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-LA., the House Majority Whip, introduced a nonbinding resolution that assails the notion of a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, The Hill newspaper reports. A so-called carbon tax is seen by some advocates, including some conservatives, as a tool to pressure industries to find ways to reduce emissions of CO2, one of the main greenhouse gases that cause global warming. But the tax is anathema to the fossil fuel industry. Oil, coal, and gas are the main contributors to carbon emissions; efforts to curb them would likely reduce consumption of those fuels. Now, the paper says, 18 conservative organizations—including Americans for Tax Reform, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Freedom Works—have written to House Republican leaders pushing them to allow a vote on Scalise’s resolution. Scalise’s home state of Louisiana is dependent on the oil and gas industry. His resolution reads in part: “[A] carbon tax would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interests of the United States.” A similar resolution passed the House two years ago, the paper points out. The letter from the conservative groups disputes the notion that several recently proposed carbon taxes are “conservative” and claims they’re not much different from those “pushed by liberal members of Congress.”





Think about shared goals and the skills—technical and professional—required to achieve them.

By Debbie Chachra

It was a dark and stormy night, and I was driving home from work. I turned a corner to find the road blocked, with cars in both lanes stalled out in a giant puddle. I got out of my car, in the pounding rain and ankle-deep water, and knocked on the driver’s window of the vehicle in front of me to ask for help pushing the cars to the curb. The driver was on the phone for help; he couldn’t immediately move his car because its shifter was locked and wouldn’t go into neutral. I knocked on the window of the other stalled car with the same request. By this time, another car had come up behind us, and I went and asked for their help too. Everyone said yes, and together we pushed one car to the curb, clearing a travel lane. Those of us with still-functioning cars squelched back to our vehicles and went our separate ways.

I think about that night when I hear people talk about “leadership.” The term is often conceptualized as a set of characteristics that one develops to become a leader—that leadership is vested in an individual. On that rainy night, I found myself acting as a leader. But the willingness of other drivers to join in a fairly unpleasant task wasn’t about me—someone they had just met—but our shared predicament..

Engineers often distrust the Northouse textbook definition: “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of people to achieve a common goal.” I personally find this model of leadership to be borderline sociopathic, since it suggests manipulation of others. But if we turn Northouse’s definition on its head and focus on the “common goal” part, a very different way to look at leadership emerges.

I suspect that anyone reading this could tell me who the CEO of Space-X or of Amazon is, but might be hard-pressed to name any administrator of NASA, past or present, even though the agency has been so effective that “moonshot” is now shorthand for wildly ambitious technical goals. We tell each other narratives about individuals, but not about larger systems, about the Great Men of History, but not about grassroots efforts.

These narratives of individuals shape ubiquitous but implicit models of leadership that are colored by gender and racial biases and favor command and confrontation over collaboration and communication. In 2018, particularly in the United States, we can make a compelling case that the commonly accepted model of leadership, overtly on display in politics and corporations, is not only limited in its effectiveness but contrary to the public good.

So where does that leave us with our engineering students? When we say we want our students to be “leaders,” what does that mean? If we start with “common goals,” we immediately think about values: Any goal expresses, implicitly or explicitly, a set of values, and alignment with a goal often reflects an alignment in values. Aligning around “have a positive impact on the world” as a value means thinking about the larger context of the proposed goal. Shared goals are most effectively achieved when all members of the group contribute (and are therefore aware of implicit and other biases), and when there is collaboration, coordination, and communication within the group. All the professional skills that are often derided as “soft skills“ collectively describe something familiar: The manifestation of leadership for undergraduate engineering students is teamwork.

For our ad hoc car-pushing team on that wet night, the goal was clear and obviously achievable. I knew that, even if only one or two people helped, we’d be able to move a car. This kind of clarity is rarely available for engineering work; technical abilities figure importantly in engineering leadership. The question is not just “Is this a worthy goal?” but “Is this goal achievable?” and “Does this team have the ability to achieve it?”

Finally, of course, there is the undeniable fact that I did come up with a plan, however simple, and had the agency, self-efficacy, and motivation to act upon it. That brings us to a final type of learning experience: giving our students the opportunity to develop, test, and iterate ideas that involve working with other people.

Our students are not going to be engineering leaders on the day they graduate, and it’s unrealistic or even hubristic to imagine they might be. But we can give them the opportunity to practice developmentally and pedagogically appropriate skills—not just their technical work but teamwork and all its associated skills, awareness of the context of their engineering work, and the ability to come up with, develop, and iterate on their own ideas. Together, we can lay the groundwork to create not just better engineering leaders but a better model of leadership in the engineering community.


Debbie Chachra is a professor of engineering at Olin College.





Student-created videos improve engagement and learning while providing content for use in future courses—including flipped ones.

By Kimberly G. Talley and Shaunna F. Smith

For instructors interested in flipping their classes or otherwise incorporating video into their courses, the creation of a semester’s worth of custom video content can be a daunting task. Faculty at Texas State University began using student term projects to generate this custom content. In addition, these videos created an opportunity to engage students in asynchronous peer-to-peer learning. Our study focused on the effectiveness of the student-generated content in facilitating learning in a Construction Estimating course over four semesters of implementation. It is expected that similar results could be achieved in any course.

The driving mechanism behind using student projects for course content was the project itself. Teams of three or four students were assigned to produce a two-to-four-minute video on a course topic. The students selected their topics from a list provided by the instructor through a first-come, first-served policy. This arrangement allowed students to choose a project that was meaningful to them while also developing the range of videos needed for the course. The project prompt was purposefully open-ended to encourage student creativity. The resulting video formats ranged widely, including scripted acting, voices (e.g., human and text-to-talk versions) overlaid on presentation slides, interviews with professionals, and even a silent film starring a student’s dogs as the actors. Links to many exemplary videos are included in our AEE paper. While some student projects were ready for future class use after some small edits, others missed the mark. The instructor might opt to simply put the topic back on the list for next semester’s projects.

Students also were asked to write three multiple-choice quiz questions that could be answered from watching their videos. Of course, undergraduates are not usually experienced at writing assessments, so the instructor would edit the questions as needed. In addition to creating an assessment tool for measuring the video’s impact on student learning, the real motivation behind the quiz question development process was to encourage students to be mindful of their content. Three questions were chosen for this quiz-writing requirement to be sure students covered at least three points in their videos that their peers could then use to answer the questions. To encourage students to take the task seriously, the improvement between the pre- and post-video quizzes was a portion of the project grade—although this area was judged generously.

During this stage of our research study, the previous semesters’ projects were shown in class on the day that new topics were being introduced, along with the associated quizzes being administered immediately before and after the video screenings. Based upon the typically statistically significant improvement in student quiz scores from watching the student-produced videos, our study provides support for the hypothesis that these student projects can enable asynchronous peer-to-peer learning. This evidence of increased student learning is in line with similar studies that used pre- and post-test measures to evaluate the effectiveness of flipped instruction models. Further, when surveyed about their enjoyment and informational value of the projects, students indicated that they viewed the projects favorably (only 6 percent expressed dislike) and overwhelmingly found the projects were informative (none disagreed).

This evidence of engagement is in line with many studies that found positive student perceptions of the flipped instruction model. The impact of these videos goes beyond student perceptions and impact on learning by also creating course content for the instructor to use in future courses.

While this study remains ongoing, the authors hope the results from the first four semesters are useful and inspire other instructors interested in generating student-produced video content for their courses. Based upon the positive results on student learning revealed during this initial phase of our study, the authors plan to flip the course in future semesters by creating online modules featuring these videos and quizzes for students to complete prior to class.

Kimberly G. Talley is an assistant professor of construction science and management and codirector of the Maker Space at the LBJ Institute for STEM Education and Research at Texas State University, where Shaunna F. Smith is an assistant professor of educational technology and operator of the MAKE Lab, a free mobile makerspace for K-12 students and teachers. This article is excerpted from “Asynchronous Peer-to-Peer Learning: Putting Student Projects to Work in Future Classes”vin the Spring 2018 issue of Advances in Engineering Education.




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...And from 2018 CoNECD, the Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference. Find those presentations here.

SEND US AN ANECDOTE: Prism magazine is putting together a special edition honor of ASEE’s 125th anniversary—and we would love to hear from you! How has your membership influenced your career? For instance, did connections made at a conference help you land a job? Were you inspired to alter your teaching or perhaps create a robotics league? Please leave a few sentences to let us know, as well as your name and email address so that we can follow up. The best quotes will appear in the upcoming special issue! Click here to join the survey.


The Journal of Engineering Education (JEE) editorial team is considering changes to our strategic plan, processes for publishing articles, and formats for articles. We would like to gather input from members of the engineering education community to help better inform these decisions. Please complete this survey to provide your feedback. The survey is short and should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.

ASEE AT 125 VIDEO CONTEST: One of the activities planned to mark ASEE’s 125th anniversary is EEin25, the first-ever ASEE video contest. Undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral students may submit a 90-second video on where engineering education will be in 25 years at ASEE’s 150th Anniversary in 2043. Click here to find out more. Click here to learn about other activities commemorating 125 Years at the Heart of Engineering Education.




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