“Active Learning” the Focus at Annual EDAM Education-Research Meeting

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Improving student learning was the topic at hand during an intensive workshop for Portuguese faculty from the MIT Portugal Program’s Engineering Design and Advanced Manufacturing (EDAM) focus area September 25–26, 2009.

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The workshop, “Improving Student Learning and Knowledge Retention,” was led by MIT Teaching and Learning Laboratory Associate Director Dr. Janet Rankin at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto. The participants—27 faculty members from the EDAM consortium institutions, including the Engineering School of the University of Minho, the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto, and Instituto Superior Técnico of the Technical University of Lisbon—were joined by several faculty from MIT Portugal’s Sustainable Energy Systems focus area institutions.

A Student-Centered Approach

The workshop established a foundation in the current research on human learning and cognition, which has pointed to the need for a student-centered approach that draws on active learning methods in the classroom. Dr. Rankin and the faculty used exercises such the “carrot peeler”—in which individuals first decide on the most effective peeler from a selection, then debate different options as a group and decide again all together—to demonstrate how active engagement among peer learners leads to greater understanding and more effective retention of a concept.

Dr. Rankin said she was very pleased with the results of the workshop in the context of similar workshops she has led with faculty at MIT and elsewhere, as well as with industry groups. “I was gratified by the group’s focus and engagement over the full day of lecture and breakout sessions," she said. "All of the senior coordinators from these institutions stayed throughout the day and were active participants, which shows the commitment of the EDAM group to their teaching practice.”

Peer Review of New Projects

edam_research_workshop_postersDuring the breaks of the education workshop, participants viewed posters from each of the EDAM research projects, including five new projects launched from the October 2008 Open Call. On the second day of the EDAM meeting, the faculty leading these projects received anonymous peer review of their projects’ industry connections, methodology, and breadth of research.

According to Prof. António M. Cunha, the lead coordinator of EDAM in Portugal, “the critical review of EDAM’s research activities and the in-depth discussion of methodologies to incorporate engineering systems content into design and manufacturing research were the key drivers of this session, part of EDAM’s continual efforts to improve the quality of our research projects.”

Additional information: General teaching and learning resources from MIT’s Teaching & Learning Laboratory