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HP funds Purdue work to recruit, retain engineering students, develop new teaching model

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University will use a Hewlett-Packard grant to develop and test a new teaching approach designed to boost the academic success of underrepresented minorities in engineering programs.

Photo from Orientation Seminar for Multiethnic Students in Engineering (ENGR 180) Fall 2008 Homecoming Celebration.

Photo from Orientation Seminar for Multiethnic Students in Engineering (ENGR 180) Fall 2008 Homecoming Celebration.

The teaching method represents a potential new model for retaining more underrepresented minorities and others who aren’t thriving in conventional engineering courses, said Jan Allebach, the Hewlett-Packard Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering who led a team of nine faculty members to secure the HP award.

Purdue is among 10 recipients selected from 200 applicants to receive an HP Innovations in Education grant.

The grant will be a catalyst for a new Purdue program called REACH – Reaching Excellence in Academic Achievement – that will help students learn in a cooperative and collaborative environment, Allebach said.

A major component of REACH focuses on the use of group-based learning and modularized coursework to assist and mentor students. The new “cohort” approach targets sophomores and juniors and focuses on collaborative learning and students mentoring each other in small groups.

“They come into this massive place, Purdue, and they just don’t thrive because they don’t see the connection to things they care about in real life,” Allebach said. “We are proposing something very radical. Usually the students take classes that meet two or three times a week during a 15-week semester, and we are going to completely alter that.”

The teaching approach has students taking fewer classes that are more concentrated. The courses – like summer sessions – are taught in half the time of ordinary courses. Students take three classes per session and two sessions in a semester. In each class, the students will work in groups of four to six.

“Many studies have shown that group-based learning improves acquisition and retention of information, higher-level thinking skills, interpersonal and communication skills, and self-confidence,” Allebach said. “Developing students’ ability to work effectively on teams is also vital because team-based work structures are prevalent in U.S. companies. Group-based learning is also effective in retaining underrepresented minorities and women, and it can be expected to benefit all students – underrepresented minorities, women and non-minority men.”

The HP grants are designed to address the national need for more students to pursue and complete high-quality, high-tech undergraduate degree programs in engineering, computer science, information systems and information technology.

Purdue will receive $280,000, primarily in equipment such as wireless tablet PCs, wide-format printers and high-power “Blade” workstations accessible from anywhere on campus.

The project has four major elements:

  • A digital classroom. HP will provide 30 tablet PCs needed for the classroom. The computers, which have swiveling monitors, enable users to draw sketches using a penlike stylus and are well-suited for interactive, collaborative learning.
  • A design laboratory for student collaborations that has 16 large-screen monitors. Students will hook up to their laptops for homework, projects and lab exercises.
  • A dedicated server containing 16 Blade computers to be used by students for classwork.
  • Resources to improve the project’s effectiveness, including tablet PCs, a digital projector and a large-format printer for posters.

“Innovation is key to expanding education opportunity, and HP is privileged to collaborate with educators around the world who are committed to exploring the exciting possibilities that exist at the intersection of teaching, learning and technology,” said Jim Vanides, worldwide program manager for HP Global Social Investments.

The teaching approach is consistent with the collaborative aspects of EPICS, or Engineering Projects in Community Service, co-founded by Leah Jamieson, Purdue’s John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering.

The EPICS program creates teams of undergraduates who earn academic credit for multiyear, multidisciplinary projects that solve engineering- and technology-based challenges for community service and educational organizations.

“I would imagine the success of EPICS was a factor in Purdue being chosen for this highly competitive grant,” Allebach said.

A major goal of the HP-funded work is to develop concepts that can be adopted by other institutions, he said.

The first classes under the new cohort model will be taught in spring or fall of 2010. Nine faculty members from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering are involved in REACH: Allebach, Mireille Boutin, Cordelia Brown, Cheng-Kok Koh, James Krogmeier, George Lee, David Love, Yung-Hsiang Lu and David Meyer.

The project includes a precollege outreach component, making the digital classroom available to participating high school students. The REACH program works closely with Purdue’s Minority in Engineering Program and the Women in Engineering Program in their summer camp activities.

Worldwide, HP is investing more than $17 million in mobile technology, cash and professional development as part of the global 2009 HP Innovations in Education grant initiative. This initiative follows HP’s five-year, $60 million investment in HP Technology for Teaching grants to more than 1,000 schools and universities in 41 countries.

More information about the 2009 HP Innovations in Education initiative and other global social investments is available at http://www.hp.com/go/grants

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