The research that Dr. Oenardi Lawanto, Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education, conducts may not seem at first to fit in the pantheon of engineering research. He does not smash pipes or dry algae; his area of focus is much more fundamental than that. Dr. Lawanto applies the principles of engineering research to the study of engineering students. The effects of his work have the potential to institute sweeping reforms in the way that students learn to be engineers. He focuses on student’s metacognitive processes, which essentially are the cognitive processes students employ to analyze their own thinking.
As part of his work, he analyzes how students react to engineering design projects. Dr. Lawanto explains that “we asked students about the level of task interpretation [a student’s understanding of an assigned project]…the score is pretty high.” The problem comes later on in the process. “When we evaluate the planning strategies, then the students somehow score less.”
To address this issue, he has begun developing a mode of intervention he calls EGN, or Enhanced Guided Notes. Essentially, an EGN is a pre-prepared document that students use while listening to a lecture. As the lecture proceeds, the student fills in the blanks to complete the notes. Dr. Lawanto acknowledges that documents like these are in no way new; he even points out that he received them from professors during his undergraduate studies. However, EGNs are different in that they contain metacognitive prompts which help students evaluate their own cognitive processes.
Part of the study evaluates the effectiveness of EGNs on different platforms. In an Electrical Engineering for Non-Electrical Engineering majors class in Spring 2012, Dr. Lawanto distributed EGNs on paper to some students and EGNs on iPads to others. The results from the paper EGNs show that many students using them improved from low to medium or medium to high performance in the class. The iPad results are still forthcoming.
The study is funded by an NSF CAREER award and is entitled “CAREER: Cognitive and Metacognitive Activities in Engineering Design Education”.