ASU professor modernizes lectures with formative feedback

September 14, 2018

Stephen Krause has spent nearly 20 years tailoring his teaching style to fit his students’ needs. This summer, the Arizona State University materials science and engineering professor was awarded the Michael Ashby Outstanding Materials Educator Award by the American Society of Engineering Education for his impact in shaping how students are taught.

In the 1960s, Stephen Krause was an undergraduate studying materials science and engineering. The classroom he learned in was not so different from the classrooms some engineering students experience today. Stephen Krauses sits with students Stephen Krause, a materials science and engineering professor, received the Michael Ashby Outstanding Materials Educator Award this summer for his research and work on the formative feedback model, which he used to enhance his students' classroom experience. Photo by Nora Skrodenis Download Full Image

“All of my classes were lectures,” Krause said. “I felt like I was always being lectured to and had to do a lot of self-teaching.” 

Fast forward to 1981, and Krause found himself in the shoes of his previous professors — teaching a traditionally lectured class in materials science. The experience was reminiscent of his time as a student. For the next 20 years he worked to improve this approach but, like many other professors teaching a tough subject in a lecture hall, it was hard to keep students engaged.

Krause thought there had to be a better way.

So, he began to collect short, written comments from his students at the end of every class responding to the questions, “What was the muddiest point of the lecture today?” and “What was the most interesting thing you learned today?” The results surprised him.

The muddiest or confusing points weren’t always complicated, abstract concepts. Sometimes, students weren’t clear on how to read a graph or the meaning of a word. Using this information, he began to discover students’ misconceptions as well as his own instructor “blind spots" — his own faulty assumptions about students' difficulties.

To help explain the muddiest points, Krause reviewed and responded to the most prominent feedback questions at the beginning of each class. This helped address the students’ learning difficulties. With the knowledge and insight he gained from his method of formative feedback, Krause developed better strategies for instructing his students.

The students' retention and grades improved as his teaching evolved and he continued incorporating formative feedback. He then added engagement activities to his class time for added participation.

“When (students) engage with one another, it makes it easier to learn,” Krause said of the engagement and feedback format. “It creates a richer, fuller learning experience.”

From there, Krause shared this teaching method on a broader scale, beyond materials science, first to a few faculty members at other universities, then with his colleagues at ASU. Between 2007 and 2015, the National Science Foundation awarded three grants for projects Krause led to expand the engagement and feedback system. In 2015, the third grant, worth $1.5 million, was awarded to expand the methodology across disciplines.

A team of seven investigators worked with 80 faculty members across seven disciplines in ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering to shape beliefs on what teaching strategies could be employed for more effective instruction and learning. They aimed to have more professors use real-world examples in their teaching, create active engagement and use formative feedback to uncover student learning issues, among other evidence-based teaching strategies.

Through Krause’s experience, he says he feels that while the students of today are bright, they sometimes have shorter attention spans. So, he believes using the engagement and feedback system creates a more effective, engaging way to learn.

Later, one of his teaching assistants, Bethany Smith, created 20 short videos to address students’ muddiest points across a semester. Their YouTube channel, MaterialsConcepts, has garnered almost 1.4 million views since they began in 2012. 

Smith worked with Krause for five years: first as an undergraduate teaching assistant and then as a research assistant while pursuing a master’s degree.

“Professors are sometimes scary for underclassmen,” Smith said. “With formative feedback, they get a chance to ask without feeling judged. It helps to feel that you’re not dumb and that there are others who have the same questions you do.”

ASEE’s Michael Ashby Outstanding Materials Educator Award recognizes not only Krause’s research publications and conference contributions within the materials science community but also his collaboration across disciplines in shaping the way students are taught. At the ASEE conference, he presented a talk about his research and experience with formative feedback

“Professor Krause is probably one of the best mentors that I’ve ever had,” Smith said. “For about five years, I worked with him on education materials. It really inspired me to be a professor to change the system into a kinder, better education experience.”

The work on the engagement and feedback system is ongoing. Over the next year, Krause’s team will continue analysis on the extended faculty-focused program and its impact on both faculty teaching strategies and the associated effect on student achievement.

Krause believes the work will back up what he has personally experienced in the classroom and hopes that the evidence will show the approach works, even outside of the materials engineering lecture hall.

Student Science/Technology Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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SPARK App League gives young students chance to code, learn about college

September 14, 2018

For the sixth year in a row, middle-school and high-school students from across Arizona gathered at the Polytechnic campus for a two-day coding competition Sept. 12–13. 

The event, called the SPARK App League Game Jam, is a collaboration between Arizona State University’s Ira A Fulton Schools of Engineering, the town of Gilbert, Waymo self-driving cars and the Smithsonian, and aims to get kids involved in a college atmosphere early on — while developing helpful code and winning cash prizes

But for the students, the experience is much more rewarding than the prize money. 

Noah Terrill, 14, came to the event for the first time two years ago. 

“When I first got involved with this was two years ago; me and my friend, we just found out about this and we just wanted to give it a try … and we really liked it,” Terrill said. “I think it really develops your STEMSTEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. and your ability to work with people.”

Derek Konofalski, who runs the program and is a data and technology analyst for the town of Gilbert, said that the need to code was inevitable and that the students were getting in at the right time.

“For students especially, I personally believe that every single person is going to need to know how to code, whether they be young, old — whether they be experienced or inexperienced — everybody's coding for everything now,” Konofalski said. 

READ: More on the SPARK App League on engineering's Full Circle site

The organizer, director and emcee of the event shared his past in code and said that the future would be written in code — a theme that was echoed by every speaker and guest at the venue.

Dana Berchman, the chief digital officer for Gilbert who helped conceive of the idea, said the event not only helps the students but also helps the community.

“In governments, we don’t have big budgets to pay for things like mobile apps, so really the idea came from — I didn’t have $30,000 for a mobile app for the town, so I had to get creative to think of how we could get a mobile app for Gilbert,” Berchman said.

After the town approached ASU, the idea turned a gaming competition, where students could learn how to code — and also get early access to possible career paths in Gilbert.

“We turned it into a gaming competition where they are getting exposed to a college campus, and they get to see what major they might be pursuing and then thinking about that long-term workforce, that pipeline of people that will be our future workers in Gilbert,” Berchman said.

But in addition to the practical applications, the event gives many students their first look at a college campus, something that Berchman said many of them have never thought about.

“A lot of these kids will tell you — even though they're really smart — and their teachers will tell you they’ve never really thought about college,” she said. “And they kind of stand there and they look around. So, it’s that experience you know, and I think for Poly especially ... it's super cool to have an event like this to be focused on such a unique campus.”

Many of the students said that the event got them thinking about college, including Bagdad high school senior Kody Conner, who is looking at a number of schools — including ASU.

Conner said he wants to study video game design and came to get more experience with coding.

“I’ve had one year of coding, but it wasn’t like serious, and so this will be my first time actually coding,” Conner said. “I think it’s important to learn how to code because it is in everything now, everything is technology-based, so I think it’s a good thing to learn, it’s something that you do need in life.”

He also said he liked the format of the event and the inclusion of younger kids.

“I look around and I see a lot of little kids who, when I was their age I was like, 'Coding? I don’t know what that is,' so I think it’s a good way to learn something while having fun, instead of just learning it,” he said.

Other speakers included a systems engineer from Waymo and a representative from the Smithsonian Innovation Spark Lab, who provided the theme for the event: translating a physical prop into a video game.

The unique and focused nature of the Polytechnic campus was featured throughout the competition. In an introduction for the school, Assistant Vice President for Educational Outreach Jonathan Schmitt riled up the crowd by showcasing some of the high-profile projects ASU Polytechnic students have been involved in, including Elon Musk’s hyperloop competition, the ASU racing team and the robotics lab.

“This is a place where you are going to learn not just about jobs you have to fill but how to think, and how to process so that no matter what happens in the future you will be able to continue to stay in pace with things,” Schmitt said. “Here at Poly it's experiential learning; everything we do is hands-on.”

Top photo: Ninth-grade Mesa homeschoolers Sarah Towey (left), 13, Ben Zazick, 13, and Noah Terrill, 14, work together on their app as part of the two-day SPARK App League Game Jam at the Student Union on the Polytechnic campus Wednesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Isaac Windes

Reporter , Media Relations and Strategic Communications