Share the Future IV

TQMIt Works in the Classroom! or
Continuous Improvement in a Collaborative Classroom

Don Maxwell, Debra Fowler, and Jim Morgan
Texas A&M University

PowerPoint Presentation

The two first-year engineering courses at Texas A&M University have about 1,600 students enrolled during both the spring and fall semesters. These courses are taught using an active collaborative learning strategy in sections of 100 students that meet twice a week for two hours each class. The instruction team supporting the learning process in this course includes two instructors (engineering and graphics), a teaching assistant, a peer teacher, computer support, and research assistants. The general process of instruction includes

  • Instructors prepare and upload class material to specially designed Web application for distribution to students and the other instruction team members.
  • The lead instructor opens the class with announcements, objectives, and a Readiness Assessment Test to ensure preclass preparation on the students' part.
  • The lead instructor presents a concept (15 to 20 minutes) with related facts, equations, and examples. Engineering and graphics instructors share this responsibility according to topic.
  • Students follow lecture notes on the computer (two students per computer) and then work class exercises as pairs or teams (of four) in a think-pair-share format. The remainder of the instruction team circulates throughout the room, assisting students as appropriate.
  • Select pairs (or teams) may share results with the entire class when results are noteworthy or circumstances dictate.
  • Steps 3 through 5 are repeated until the end of class.
  • The lead instructor closes the class with a clarity assessment exercise.
  • The feedback from steps 4 and 7 is used to enable instructors to address any perceived lack of understanding in help sessions or subsequent class periods.

From a certain point of view, course instruction is comparable to running a manufacturing process. Key activities on the part of the students are reading material before class and participating in the exercises. Key activities on the part of the instruction team are preparing and delivering the lecture and assisting students during exercises. In this context class materials must be available with ample time for student preparation. Also, all supporting equipment (including the computer-based projection equipment, lapel microphones, and the student computers) must be operating at all times. A breakdown in any part of the process, whether it be student/instructor interaction or the supporting equipment, will lead to poor results and, in some cases, total process breakdown.

Key components have been added to help avoid these process breakdowns:

  • Peer teachers (who are not a part of the grading process) were added to the instruction team to assist (a) the students in preparation of classwork and in gaining a better understanding of the material in general, (b) instructors in getting questions answered during class periods and in gaining a better understanding of students' concerns outside of the class material itself, and (c) mentoring the students on any concern, course related or not.
  • A Web application designed to provide rapid and continuous updates of course information, special announcements, and exam and daily-exercise scores.
  • Computer support during all class sessions.

Given the size of the effort required in dealing with 1,600 students per year in a single course, the use of technology and extreme collaboration is a given; the issue at hand is how we best use them to enhance the current process.

Learning Objectives
Participants should be able to

  • Draw and annotate a process diagram of their own active collaborative process
  • Identify activities within the process where information technology can serve to enhance collaboration
  • Identify activities within the process where information technology can serve to enhance immediate instructional feedback
  • Identify modifications to the process, which would lead to increased learning through sharing of information and increased collaboration.


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