ASU among 12 institutions teaming up to promote reflection in learning


November 12, 2014

Arizona State University is among 12 higher education institutions selected for a newly formed Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education, which is funded with a grant of $4.4 million by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

The consortium, led by the University of Washington Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching, will develop and promote teaching practices that help undergraduate engineering students reflect on their experiences. students walking on campus Download Full Image

It focuses on first- and second-year undergraduates who want to be engineers, with a goal to enhance their ability to learn, help a greater percentage complete their degrees and, ultimately, foster a larger, more diverse and better prepared engineering workforce.

“We’re very excited that ASU was selected to participate as a member of this exciting research consortium,” said Adam Carberry, assistant professor at the Polytechnic School, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “This is a great opportunity for our engineering programs to document and expand currently embedded reflective practices. We believe that this partnership will help drive continuous improvement of our engineering programs while enhancing student learning.”

Carberry and Kristine Csavina, a clinical assistant professor at the Polytechnic School, will lead ASU’s efforts in the consortium.

“Research increasingly points to reflection as an important activity in achieving these goals,” said Jennifer Turns, a consortium co-director and a University of Washington professor of human centered design and engineering.

Reflection – giving meaning to prior experiences and determining how that meaning will guide future actions – has long been recognized as important in higher education.

“Reflection accelerates the learning that happens through experience, and so it is critical for preparing the next generation of engineers,” said Cynthia Atman, consortium co-director and a University of Washington professor of human centered design and engineering.

Because reflection practices and strategies may vary greatly across schools, the consortium incorporates institutions that grant associate and four-year degrees. Each institution brings a distinct perspective on engineering instruction and great enthusiasm for expanding their focus on reflection, leaders said.

In addition to ASU, the schools involved are Bellevue College in Bellevue, Washington; California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California; Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York; Green River Community College in Auburn, Washington; Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta; Highline College in Des Moines, Washington; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana; Seattle Central College in Seattle; Seattle University in Seattle; Stanford University in Palo Alto, California; and the University of Washington.

The 12-school consortium will involve nearly 250 educators who will collect data on 18,000 student experiences. Each institution will receive $200,000 over two academic years to fund a principal investigator and other colleagues to carry out the work. Tools and practices developed throughout this initiative will be shared with engineering programs nationwide.

“The project is designed to celebrate the local culture at each institution. Each educator has a kind of expertise that we want to reveal,” Atman said. In the first year, the emphasis is on documenting reflection activities already in use on the campuses and creating support for student reflection. Another key part of the work is for the campuses to learn from each other.

To achieve these goals, schools will hold campus events that promote conversations about reflecting as a learning practice. The principal investigator at each school will participate in regular conference calls with the other leaders and, in the winter, engage more deeply with each other at a meeting at the University of Washington. While developing a plan for how to expand their reflection activities in the second year, each school – in collaboration with consortium staff – will additionally compile a guide that explains reflection practices in use at their institution as a way to inform colleagues and others in higher education.

Project leaders expect the consortium’s work will be useful across all disciplines in higher education. The practice of taking a broader view of learning by emphasizing reflection is something that can benefit all students and their educators, regardless of the field.

“The trust is delighted to support such a diverse group of schools in this effort to increase our nation’s engineering capacity,” said Ryan Kelsey, program officer for higher education at the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “Helping first- and second-year students reflect on what it means to be an engineer as they learn foundational concepts is a very promising strategy for attracting and retaining a larger and more diverse future engineering workforce.”

For more information, contact Atman at atman@uw.edu or 206-616-2171 and Turns at jturns@uw.edu or 206-221-3650, or go to http://depts.washington.edu/celtweb/cpree/.

Aggression in male chimpanzees leads to mating success


November 13, 2014

In the animal kingdom, the battle of the sexes often truly becomes a battle. Among chimpanzees, males may violently attack females, sometimes resulting in serious wounds. While unpleasant to watch, the frequent occurrence of such violence at several East African field sites suggests that aggression toward females functions as a form of sexual coercion.

Previous research from the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Kibale National Park, Uganda, has supported the sexual coercion hypothesis. Males who directed aggression at certain females mated more often with those females than did other males. Moreover, these aggressive males were actively solicited for mating by those females at the time of peak fertility. Critically, aggression over the long term had a greater effect than violence in the immediate context of mating. Ian Gilby in the field Download Full Image

However, until now, it has been unclear whether aggression toward females increases male chimpanzee reproductive success.

A new study published this week in Current Biology by Feldblum et al., including ASU scientist Ian Gilby, a senior author on the study, provides strong evidence that male aggression toward females is indeed adaptive. The authors analyzed 17 years of observations of the Kasekela chimpanzee community in Gombe National Park, Tanzania.

Researchers used DNA obtained from fecal material to determine the paternity of 31 infants born during the study period. This is the first study to present genetic evidence of long-term sexual coercion as an adaptive strategy in a social mammal.

The rate at which a male directed aggression at a female not only increased the pair’s mating frequency, but also significantly increased the probability that he sired her offspring. This strategy was most effective for high-ranking males, and aggression toward females outside of their periods of sexual receptivity was the best predictor of paternity. Male aggression was not used to force sexual encounters either during or immediately following aggression.

“This indicates that males, particularly those of high rank, successfully employ a strategy of long-term sexual intimidation,” says Ian Gilby, an assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and research affiliate with the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.

Although there could be female preference for dominant males, the fact that aggression increased paternity likelihood for high-ranking males indicates that the patterns of paternity did not arise as a result of female choice but rather from mate guarding by strong alpha males.

Gilby cautions that while these results may provide clues about the origins of sexual violence in humans, he says, “We should be careful not to jump to conclusions. Chimpanzees are one of our closest living relatives, but 7 million years of evolution separate us, and our mating systems are very different. Nevertheless, recognizing the adaptive value of male-female aggression in chimpanzees may ultimately help us to understand, and hopefully prevent, similar behavior among humans.”

Julie Russ

Assistant director, Institute of Human Origins

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