Comparative Analysis Of Two Instructional Strategies Education Essay

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This study examined the effects of active learning and traditional lecturing on the academic performance of Particle Technology students in order to identify the more effective teaching strategy. Two active learning models, namely, cooperative and collaborative learning were used. The population of the study consisted of thirty-eight third year students enrolled in the Bachelor of Engineering in Chemical Engineering programme in one of the universities in one of the Caribbean Island. The post-test only control group experimental design was employed for the study while the instruments used to collect data were midterm tests and a final examination. The data collected was subjected to an independent t-test analysis (α = 0.05), using the SPSS statistical software application. The findings indicated that students taught with traditional lecturing performed significantly better (mean P = 0.01) than those taught using active learning strategies. Males and female participants taught with traditional lecturing also performed better than their counterparts taught with active learning. Based on the findings of the study, it was recommended that students be better sensitized about new teaching strategies being implemented, Particle Technology teachers recognize the value of traditional lecturing, appropriate measures be implemented to achieve comparable attendance among study groups and future studies should focus on understanding the characteristics of female students which results in them exhibiting enhanced learning compared to their male counterparts.

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Keywords-comparative;engineering; instructional; strategies; performances; particle technology

Introduction

Active learning, which many consider a radical change from traditional teaching methods, has received considerable attention over the past several years. For engineering education, however, there remains some skepticism as to the need for these methods since students are already "active" through homework assignments and laboratories. In addition, many engineering faculty lack the enthusiasm to comb the educational literature for answers and as a result do not always understand how the common forms of active learning differ from each other. There are also drawbacks for engineering faculty expecting to select a few articles to see the effectiveness of active learning strategies. It is imperative that readers clarify what is being studied and how the authors measure and interpret what "works." However, as a result of the wide range of methods that fall under the name of active learning it might be difficult to identify the subject of the study. Nonetheless, this process can be simplified by focusing on core elements of common active learning methods. Assessing "what works" requires looking at a broad range of learning outcomes, interpreting data carefully, quantifying the magnitude of any reported improvement and having some idea of what constitutes a "significant" improvement [1]. Assessing for significance will always be a matter of interpretation, although it is helpful to look at both statistical measures such as absolute values and effect sizes for reported learning gains. Being aware of the practical limitations of educational studies will seek to caution educators hoping to adopt an instructional practice with the expectation of seeing results similar to those reported in the literature. Educational studies tell us what worked, on average, for the populations examined and learning theories suggest why this might be so [1]. Therefore the value of the results presented in literature is that they provide information to help teachers identify the variables involved in educational studies. The more extensive the data supporting an intervention, the more a teacher's students resemble the test population and the better the odds are that the method will work for a given instructor[2].

Contemporary research on classroom instructional modes suggest that teaching models employing active learning strategies result into meaningful learning over traditional, passive lectures with regards to retention of material, motivating students and developing thinking skills [3]. This in turn results in improved student's performance, as measured by traditional tests, as well as creating positive student's attitudes towards the learning process [4]. Moreover, because active learning strategies incorporate multiple learning styles, such strategies are consistent with educational models based on theories of learning and motivation. However, not all of these supports for active learning are compelling. For example, [5] conceded that the measured improvements of learner-centered over instructor-centered instructional strategy on students' learning in two online courses were small, and concluded that the principles lack substantial evidence with respect to empirical support for active learning. They simply did not have much data confirming beneficial effects of other (non-cooperative or social) kinds of active learning. Despite this, the empirical support for active learning is extensive. However, confusion is added to the issue when the variety of instructional methods labeled as active learning is considered. Although there is strong support for the adoption of active learning, it is not always clear what is being promoted given the differences in the approaches labeled as active learning. Therefore, it is best to think of active learning as an approach rather than a method and to recognize that different methods are best assessed separately.

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Active learning can be achieved by introducing students' activity into the traditional lecture sessions. [2], highlighted the use of one such approach called the concept tests (or "Concepts Tests") method in their Unified Engineering class. In this method lectures are punctuated by brief, multiple-choice conceptual questions to test students' understanding of the material. When most students do well on a question, the lecture proceeds to new material. However, when the concept test reveals that students have conceptual problems or misunderstandings, students are encouraged to work in small groups to work out the answer to the question. When students were asked to compare the active learning techniques to the traditional lecture format, their responses reflected an overall positive attitude towards the active learning techniques. Specifically, some students commented on the effect of the active learning techniques on improving their learning and understanding of the content, and in stimulating their thinking and classroom participation. Another important component of active learning highlighted by [4] is the type of activity, which influences how much classroom material is retained. It is essential that activities promote thoughtful engagement on the part of the students and are designed around important learning outcomes. The importance of students' engagement is widely accepted and there is considerable evidence to support the effectiveness of students' engagement on a broad range of learning outcomes. [6] reports that one of the most important predictors of success in college is students' involvement. He examined the performance of over 90 students in five chemical engineering courses and found significantly improved performance for students in classes with extensive use of active and cooperative learning techniques as opposed to students in a traditionally taught group. The experimental group outperformed the comparison group on a number of measures, including retention and graduation in chemical engineering, and many more of the graduates in this group chose to pursue advanced study in the field.

Collaborative Learning Model

This model can refer to any instructional method in which students work together in small groups toward a common goal. As such, collaborative learning can be viewed as encompassing all group-based instructional methods, including cooperative learning [7]. On the contrary, according to [4] some authors distinguish between collaborative and cooperative learning as having distinct historical developments and different philosophical roots. Nevertheless, regardless of the interpretation, the core element of collaborative learning is the importance of students' interactions rather than on learning as a solitary activity. There is clear consistency among the findings of various studies on the question of how collaboration influences learning outcomes. In a review of 168 studies, [8] found that cooperation improved learning outcomes relative to individual work across the board. Similar results were found by [9] who looked at 37 studies of students in science, mathematics, engineering and technology. A question of practical interest is whether the benefits of group work improve with frequency. In a study "investigating the effect of incorporating small, medium and large amounts of group work on achievement", [9] found the positive effect sizes associated with low, medium and high amount of time in groups to be 0.52, 0.73 and 0.53, respectively. Therefore, the highest benefit was not found for large time in groups but for medium time in groups. In contrast, more time spent in groups did however produce the highest effect on promoting positive students' attitudes, with low, medium and high amount of time in groups having effect sizes of 0.37, 0.26, and 0.77 respectively. The authors also noted that the attitudinal results were based on a relatively small number of studies.

Cooperative Learning Model

This model can be defined as a structured form of group work where students pursue common goals while being assessed individually [4]. According to [1] the most common model of cooperative learning found in the engineering literature is that of [8]. This model incorporates five specific tenets, which are individual accountability, mutual interdependence, face-to-face promotive interaction, appropriate practice of interpersonal skills, and regular self-assessment of team functioning. While [7] highlights different cooperative learning models, the core element held in common is a focus on cooperative incentives rather than competition to promote learning. Much of the research on cooperative group learning seem to suggest that this model leads to improved students' performance and increased higher-order thinking skills. However, many instructors are quite hesitant when they consider the rather strict criteria and time required for successful learning when using cooperative learning models. Cooperation also promotes interpersonal relationships, improves social support and fosters self-esteem. The fact that cooperative learning provides a natural environment in which to promote effective teamwork and interpersonal skills would also be an issue of interest to engineering faculty. In addition, the need to develop these skills in their students is reflected by the engineering accreditation criteria [6]. It was also noted that employers frequently identify team skills as a critical gap in the preparation of engineering students. Therefore, the development of these skills in engineering students could also lead to better integration in the industry. Furthermore, it is difficult to argue that individual work in traditional classes does anything to develop team skills since practice is a precondition of learning any skill. The main component of the difficulty in addressing the question, whether cooperative learning effectively develops interpersonal skills stems from how one defines and measures team skills. Still, [8] provide strong arguments to suggest that cooperative learning is effective in this area. They recommend explicitly training students in the skills needed to be effective team members when using cooperative learning groups. It is reasonable to assume that traditional instruction that emphasizes individual learning and generally, has no explicit instruction in teamwork is less effective than the opportunity to practice interpersonal skills coupled with explicit instructions in these skills. [10] who studied the effects of competitive and cooperative learning strategies on academic performance of Nigerian students in mathematics, provides empirical evidence to support this conclusion and went on to state that social skills tend to increase more within cooperative rather than competitive or individual situations. In addition, [11] show that students report increased interpersonal skills required for effective teamwork as a result of cooperative learning.

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In one of the Islands in the Caribbean, many of our educational institutions employ passive learning through traditional lecturing and as a result active learning strategies are sparsely used. In contrast, many researchers support the use of active learning which they have found to increase retention, foster team building and develop higher level thinking skills [3]&[6]. The main problem that the study sought to investigate was, which of these learning strategies will bring about better performances from the students enrolled in the Particle Technology module. The study was guided by the following questions: 1.) Which of the two instructional approaches (active learning and traditional lecturing strategy) used for teaching Particle Technology students yields better students' academic performance? 2.) Do Particle Technology students significantly differ in their academic performances based on the two methods of teaching (active learning and traditional lecturing strategy) used? and 3.) Do Particle Technology students taught with active learning strategies and traditional lecturing significantly differ in their academic performances based on gender?

methodology

The design adopted for this study was the Post-test Only Control Group Design. This design was chosen because of its strength against single-group and multiple-group threats to internal validity [12]. A pre-test is normally included in order to determine whether groups are comparable prior to the program, but because random assignment was used, it then could be assumed that the two groups are probabilistically equivalent to begin with, and the pre-test was therefore not required. In this design, the researchers were most interested in determining whether the two groups are different after the program or treatment. The groups' performance on three assessments were measured and then compared by testing for the differences between the means using an independent t-test.

Participants

The study was conducted in the chemical engineering programme at a popular university in one of the Islands in the Caribbean. The participants in this study were 38 third-year students (16 females and 22 males between the ages of 21 and 24). These students were enrolled in the compulsory Particle Technology module. Particle Technology is a three (3) credit module designed to give students a clear understanding of the characteristics of particles and how these characteristics determine such prosperities as its density and conductivity, the surface per unit volume and the interaction between particles and fluids. The module also focuses on some physical unit operations involving particle enlargement or reduction and particle separation and the design of these processes' equipment. The module consisted of a two hours lecture session in addition to two one-hour tutorial sessions per week. The lecture sessions were attended by all students while the class was divided into two groups, A and B, with each group attending a single tutorial session per week.

Instruments

The instruments used to assess students' performance were two midterm tests and a final examination. The midterm tests were given at the end of the second and fourth unit and assessed students' grasps of major concepts. Each test was administered over a two-hour period and comprised of three problems in the form of short answer and restricted essay items, which required students to perform various calculations. At the end of the module, students were given a summative assessment in the form of a comprehensive final examination, which was used to test students' overall understanding of the major concepts covered in the module. The examination comprised one short answer item and three restricted essay items and required students' to perform various calculations. Students were required to answer all questions within the allotted duration of two hours. In order to determine whether the research instruments truly measure that which they were intended to measure or how truthful the research results are, the instruments were assessed for face and content validity. The content validity was done using a method advocated by [13] for gauging agreement among raters or judges regarding how essential a particular item is. This formula yields values, which range from +1 to -1. The content validity ratio for individual test items ranged from 0.2 to 1.0 and 0.47 to 0.87 for the overall test instruments. This indicates that the instruments had sound content validity as positive ratios mean that more than half of the expert raters rated the knowledge being measured by the items as being essential. In order to assess the reliability of the instruments the inter-rater method was used. The reliability of individual test items ranged from 0.6 to 1.0 on a scale of 0 to 1. This indicates that the instruments had good reliability, as there was at least 60% agreement between the expert raters. The reliability for the overall test instruments were even higher ranging from 0.73 to 0.93.

Procedure

Firstly, the third year chemical engineering class which consists of 38 students was initially randomly divided into two groups of equal size, groups A and B. Therefore, there was no sampling error as the entire population was used for this study based on the small size of the groups. However, due to absenteeism of some participants in both groups, the group sizes had to be revised to capture those who actually took part in the study. That is, those who were present for at least half of the sessions. In the final analysis Group A was reduced to 17 members while Group B reduced to 14 members. Both groups had two hours of joint lecture and one hour of separate tutorial sessions each week. It is in these tutorial sessions that the variation in instructional strategies was employed. Group A was used as the traditional lecturing group while Group B was the active learning group. In the traditional lecturing sessions, there were no active learning exercises or cooperative/collaborative group activities. PowerPoint slides presentation was used to deliver lessons and one of the researchers solved all examples on the whiteboard. Socratic questions were asked during lecture and volunteer answers solicited. Conversely, in the active learning sessions for group B, active learning strategies in the form of cooperative and collaborative exercises were employed. Students worked together on problems in a small group setting until all members of the group understood the problem and completed it. The main class activities used included the jigsaw method, think-pair-share, round robin, brainstorming and debates to name a few. In order to assess students' performance two midterm tests and a comprehensive final examination were administered. One midterm test was given at the end of the second unit and the other at the end of the fourth unit while the final examination, which covered the entire module content, was given at the end of the module.

results

Group

N

Mean

Std. Dev.

t

df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Test 1

A

17

56.12

17.87

2.754

29

0.010

B

14

38.04

18.58

Test 2

A

17

82.82

11.77

3.470

20.25

0.002

B

14

61.93

19.84

Final Exam

A

17

66.24

14.42

2.889

26

0.008

B

11

47.82

19.31Research question 1: Which of the two instructional approaches (active learning and traditional lecturing strategy) used for teaching Particle Technology students yields better students' academic performance?

To answer this question, the mean of participants' score on each instrument was calculated for each group and then compared. Figure 1 presents a comparison between the mean score of group A and group B participants on each of the instruments.

Figure 1: Mean scores for group A and group B participants on each test instrument.

As can be seen in figure 1, the results indicate that students taught with traditional lecturing (group A) yielded better academic performances than those taught with active learning strategies (group B) on all the instruments. The largest difference between the mean performance of each group was observed in test 2 (20.9 percentage points) while the difference in the mean performance of both groups in test 1 and the final examination were approximately equal (18.1 percentage points on test 1 compared to 18.4 percentage points on the final examination).

Research question 2: Do Particle Technology students significantly differ in their academic performances based on the two methods of teaching (active learning and traditional lecturing strategy) used?

To answer this question, participants' performances on the various test instruments were subjected to an independent t-test analysis to establish whether the difference between the performances of participants taught with traditional lecturing (group A) and those taught with active learning strategies (group B) was significant. This analysis was carried out using the SPSS software applications with a confidence interval of 95% (α = 0.5).

Table 1:T-test Analysis of Participants' Score on each Assessment

As can be seen in table 1, there was a significant difference in the scores for group A and group B participants on all three assessments, with group A participants recording higher scores than those in group B. These results suggest that active learning strategies do not have a positive effect on participants' performance. Specifically, the results suggest that when traditional lecturing is used, participants' performance improved.

Research question 3: Do Particle Technology students taught with active learning strategies and traditional lecturing significantly differ in their academic performances based on gender?

In order to establish whether the observed differences between the mean performances of male and female participants taught with traditional lecturing (group A) and those taught with active learning strategies (group B) was significant, the data was subjected to an independent t-test analysis using the SPSS software application with a confidence interval of 95% (α = 0.5). Table 2 presents the results of the statistical analysis conducted on the mean scores of female participants in groups A and group B on each assessment

Table 2 T-test Analysis of Female Participants' Score on each Assessment

Group

N

Mean

Std. Dev.

t

df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Test 1

A

7

70.29

12.98

2.465

11

0.031

B

6

46.33

21.66

Test 2

A

7

89.43

8.87

1.789

11

0.101

B

6

75.50

18.35

Final Exam

A

7

69.86

12.56

2.220

11

0.048

B

6

54.00

13.16

As can be seen in table 2, there was a significant difference between the scores of group A and group B female participants on midterm Test 1 and the Final Examination. These results suggest that female participants taught with traditional learning performed significantly better than their counterparts taught with active learning strategies. However, for midterm Test 2, there was no significant difference between the scores for group A (M=89.43, SD=8.87) and group B (M=75.50, SD=18.35) female participants; t (11) = 1.789, p=0.101. This suggests that there is no significant difference between the performance of female participants taught with traditional learning and those taught with active learning strategies.

Table 3 presents the results of the statistical analysis conducted on the mean scores of male participants in groups A and B on each assessment.

Group

N

Mean

Std. Dev.

t

df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Test 1

A

10

46.20

13.78

2.169

16

0.045

B

8

31.82

14.24

Test 2

A

10

78.20

11.67

4.273

16

0.001

B

8

51.75

14.64

Final Exam

A

10

63.70

15.72

2.266

13

0.041

B

5

40.00

24.29Table 3: T-test Analysis of Male Participants' Score on each Assessment

As can be seen in table 3, there was a significant difference in the scores for group A and group B male participants on all three assessments with group A participants recording higher scores than those in group B. These results suggest that active learning strategies do not have a positive effect on male participants' performance. Specifically, the results suggest that male participants taught with traditional learning performed significantly better than their counterparts taught with active learning strategies.

discussion

From the results, it can be seen that the test instruments showed a high level of content validity and reliability. This can be attributed to the fact that all instruments were constructed to be in close agreement with the module outline. Therefore, individual test items were designed to assess one or more specific objectives to determine if the participants have satisfied the desired learning outcomes. The statistical analysis conducted on both mid-semester examinations as well as the final examination found p values ranging from 0.001 to 0.01 which indicates that there was a significant difference between the mean of both groups. In all three instances, the mean for Group A (ranging from 56.12 to 82.82) was found to be higher than that of Group B (ranging from 38.04 to 61.93). These findings indicate that participants taught with traditional instructional strategies performed better than those taught with active learning strategies. Since these assessments were announced well in advance, participants had sufficient time to build on the concepts they were introduced to in the various sessions. Therefore, the results could be interpreted to suggest that participants in the active learning group (Group B) did not sufficiently grasp the basic concepts being conveyed and therefore could not make significant addition to their knowledge base. These findings disagreed with that of [6] who examined the performance of over 90 students in five chemical engineering courses and found significantly improved performance for students in classes with extensive use of active and cooperative learning techniques as opposed to students taught using the traditional approach. The experimental group outperformed the control group on a number of measures, including retention and graduation in chemical engineering, and many more of the graduates in this group chose to pursue advanced study in the field. It must be noted however, that [6] conducted a longitudinal study, which spanned the entire period of the participants' course of study. This would have given the participants the opportunity to fully develop an appreciation for the active learning strategies. This argument is supported by [8], who provided strong arguments to suggest that cooperative learning is effective when participants are explicitly trained in the skills needed to be effective team members when using cooperative learning groups. These researchers also believe that most of these skills can be self-taught and developed overtime.

The data analysis also revealed that male and female participants taught with traditional lecturing (group A) performed better than their counterparts taught with active learning strategies (group B). Female students taught with traditional lecturing achieved up to 24.0 percentage point higher academic performance when compared to their female counterparts taught with active learning strategies. Similarly, male participants taught with traditional lecturing achieved up to 26.4 percentage point higher academic performance when compared to their male counterparts taught with active learning strategies. These findings are in contradiction to that conducted by [5] which examined the impact of instructor-centered versus learner-centered instructional strategy on students' learning in two online courses and found no significant difference across treatment groups. The lower academic performance witnessed among participants taught with active learning strategies could be due to the fact that this was the first time they have been involved with the use of active learning strategies on such an extensive basis. In a study which investigated the effect of incorporating small, medium and large amounts of group work on achievement, [9] found positive effect sizes associated with small, medium and large amount of time in groups to be 0.52, 0.73 and 0.53, respectively. Therefore, the highest benefit was not found for large time in groups but for medium time in groups. This suggests that the use of extensive group work will not necessarily result in higher performance. Rather a balance between group and individual work should be sought.

One possibility is the fact that, too much group work can lead to some members not being given a chance to process the material in their own time (self-discovery) but rather being told the solutions by other members. This could then lead to some members of the group not being able to properly develop their critical thinking capabilities. In addition, the participants were being exposed, almost exclusively, to traditional instructional methods over their previous two years at the university. Even during the period of this study, participants were enrolled in other module in which instructors also used traditional methods. Since these methods allow participants to remain passive, they could view active learning strategies in a negative light by requiring them to do more work. This could also explain the lower level of attendance recorded for the active learning group (Group B) when compared to the group exposed to traditional methods (Group A). Additionally, the introduction of different active learning strategies could also have resulted in some of the participants being more fascinated and grossly involved with the social interaction aspects so much that they lost tract of the main objectives of the lesson, thus achieving lower academic performances.

Another important factor, which could greatly influence the performance of the participants, is their average class attendance. As was presented in the results, the average attendance for participants taught with traditional learning strategies (Group A) was found to be 66% while that observed for the participants taught with active learning strategies (Group B) was 58%. Therefore, the consistently higher scores recorded by Group A participants (male and female) when compared to their counterparts in group B could be attributed to their higher rate of class attendance which resulted in them having a longer contact time with one of the researchers who in this case was the lecturer directly involved with the module. This low average attendance observed for participants in this study can also be linked to the university's policy, which regards students as adult learners capable of making responsible decision, and therefore does not mandate students to attend class.

Although these results represent a departure from many of the studies conducted as seen in the literature for instance, [1] cautioned that educational studies tell us what worked, on average, for the populations examined and learning theories suggest why this might be so. However, it is not entirely accurate to claim that faculties who adopt a specific method will see similar results in their own classrooms. Even if the new instructional method is mastered, all other variables that affect learning cannot be controlled. [5] in his study also conceded that the measured improvements of discussion over lecture were small and concluded that the principles lack substantial evidence with respect to empirical support for active learning.

conclusion and recommendations

While the growing body of research indicates that active learning strategies may well be more effective than traditional lecturing methods, it remains an empirically open question whether that relation holds in teaching engineering modules. This study sought to evaluate whether active learning strategies were, indeed, more effective than traditional lecturing in improving students' academic performance and, if so, to what degree. The research findings revealed that there is a significant difference between the academic performances of Particle Technology students based on the two methods of teaching (active learning and traditional lecturing strategy) used, which favours traditional lecturing. The revelation persisted even when students' academic performances were compared based on gender. Interestingly though, male and female Particle Technology students taught with traditional lecturing approach significantly differ in their academic performances while male and female students taught with active learning strategies did not differ significantly in their academic performances. Thus, the findings of this study provide empirical evidence contrary to common beliefs about the greater effectiveness of active learning strategies compared with traditional lecturing in developing students' engineering skills.

Based on the findings of this study, the following recommendations were made:

Students should be sensitized as to the nature of active learning strategies as well as possible benefits in order to alleviate concerns of additional workload and limited supports.

Particle Technology teachers should not rely completely on active learning strategies but rather recognize the value of traditional lecturing as an effective learning strategy in order to improve students' performances.

Future studies should be conducted with appropriate measures in place to achieve comparable attendance among the students in both study groups. This would convincingly remove any potential confounding effects associated to attendance, and would reaffirm or refute this finding.

Again, because this approach has not been tried on other engineering modules other than Particle Technology, doing so is highly recommended especially on varied population and sample size in order to authenticate further this finding.

Further research in this area is also warranted which should focus on understanding the characteristics of female students that possibly resulted in them exhibiting enhanced learning under both models when compared to their male counterparts.

The study also recommends that a replication of this experiment be done in other occupational education areas such as Technical and Vocational Education modules which share certain characteristics with engineering in order to confirm or refute these findings.