Brown Bag Colloquium Series: Benjamin Ahn and Francis Su

By Christian Bazán
Benjamin Ahn and Francis Su

UPDATE: Due to the current transition to online learning, all in-person events have been rescheduled for a time to be determined in the Fall semester.

The next guest speaker for the UT STEM Center's Brown Bag Colloquium series is Benjamin Ahn, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Iowa State University. His talk will be on Wednesday, March 25th from 9-10 AM at the George I. Sánchez Building, room SZB 352 and is co-sponsored by Maura Borrego of the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering. The title of Ahn's talk is "Assessment Effects of Using the Cooperative Learning Pedagogy in a Hybrid Mechanics of Materials Course". 

Literature shows that cooperative learning (CL) pedagogy increases engineering students’ performance in traditional lecture-based courses. This study investigated whether a similar positive effect on student performances would be found in a hybrid course that implemented the CL pedagogy. To examine this question, this study compared the performance of engineering students taught with and without the CL pedagogy in a sophomore-level Mechanics of Materials (MoM) course that implemented the hybrid format. The study aimed to vary only the CL component between the two hybrid MoM sections while controlling for as many potential influential hybrid pedagogy variables as possible. Therefore, the two sections had the same teaching assistant and shared the same syllabus, course materials (e.g., lecture slides and online videos), and physical classroom. Furthermore, both sections were assigned the same in-class exercises, homework problems, and individual assessments. The study findings showed that CL offered no additional increase in performance for students. Student characteristics (e.g., gender, class load in the semester, attendance, previous GPA) did not influence this finding. However, many students reported that they enjoyed working in teams, preferred including the CL pedagogy in hybrid courses, and suggested that similar engineering courses be taught using the CL pedagogy. The positive attitudes about the CL pedagogy are encouraging because previous studies showed that positive student attitudes toward courses lead to multiple positive long-term student outcomes, including increased student engagement, motivation, and retention in engineering fields.

Francis Su, the Benediktsson-Karwa professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, will follow in the series on Friday, April 3rd from 3-4 PM - also at the George I. Sánchez Building, room SZB 352. Su's talk is titled "Mathematics for Human Flourishing" and is co-sponsored by the Department of Mathematics and the Dana Center.

For many, math is lifeless and meaningless; a bunch of rules to follow; a way to separate people rather than a way to bring them together. It’s no wonder that many have anxiety over their math experiences. I believe more people would enjoy math if they could see how it is intimately tied to what it means to be a human being and live a more fully human life. I’ll explain how math can (or should) meet basic desires that all human beings share, and builds virtues that serve each person well no matter what they do in life. A prison inmate has helped me see this more clearly than ever before.



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Christian Bazán is the Communications Coordinator for the STEM Center.