ELI edublog offers personal look at student learning experiences
As the Ivy League’s top-ranked engineering college, Cornell Engineering has prioritized the method and practice of teaching, not just for faculty, but for peer educators and teaching assistants. Pedagogy has traditionally existed behind-the-scenes as an essential function of student learning and teaching, but a new blog offers a public window into what is often a momentous experience for those involved.
The ELI edublog was launched in April by the office of Engineering Learning Initiatives (ELI) and chronicles the experiences of undergraduate peer educators, graduate TA development consultants, and undergraduate researchers, and offers tips for student-centered learning practices. ELI’s leaders hope that the blog can help raise awareness for their programs, but also serve as a resource for students, faculty and staff.
“Of course we have brochures and we have a webpage, but sharing the stories through the blog really brings the programs to life,” said Lisa Schneider-Bentley, ELI director.
Celia Evans, ELI associate director and author of the blog, said there is a lot to be learned by listening to the stories and experiences of engineering students as they learn to be effective teachers and researchers.
“We use their feedback to improve our own learning initiatives, and we hope that sharing their perspectives, successes and challenges in the form of a blog will be not only interesting, but may be instructive for others as well,” said Evans.
An edublog post titled “Celebrating Our Seniors” offers a firsthand look at ELI’s one-credit Academic Excellence Workshops (AEWs), which can be taken in conjunction with core engineering courses and enhance learning through group work facilitated by undergraduate peer educators.
The post share anonymous student testimonials of workshops, including this review for the Intro to Computing Using Python workshop facilitated by Abby Swanson '20: "Before the workshop started, I felt anxious about the course, but after meeting weekly with the group, it helped calm a lot of my nerves and taught me a lot."
“You’re the reason that I’m learning in this class. You are the reason why I truly understand the core concepts of Linear Algebra. I can’t thank you enough…” wrote another student of Linear Algebra facilitator Adam Wojceichowski ‘20.
With over 800 enrollments each year, nearly half of all first-year engineering students participate in at least one AEW workshop. Engineering Learning Initiatives staff select, prepare, and mentor approximately 75 undergraduate students as AEW facilitators each year. ELI also trains over 300 graduate teaching assistants (TAs) and nearly 200 undergraduate TAs annually, among other programs.
The testimonials offered by the blog share the value of ELI’s efforts, said Evans, who joined ELI in January as one of only three staff members. In addition to Schneider-Bentley and Evans, the ELI team of three is rounded out by administrative coordinator Kristin Tewksbury.
“When I saw all the ways that this relatively tiny program influences the teaching and learning that happens in the college, and how many students are either directly or indirectly touched, I wanted to get the word out about the value of ELI programs for our students and for the college, and tell the stories that will illustrate those impacts,” said Evans.
As a former ecology professor and self-described “teaching-learning nerd,” Evans said the AEW workshops, like ELI’s other programs, are based on research showing that collaborative methods of learning promote higher grades, greater persistence, deeper comprehension, more enjoyment in learning, and more positive attitudes toward academic work.
Some of ELI edublog’s posts detail the nuts and bolts of learning theory and peer education, while a more recent post highlights the undergraduate research that is enabled through ELI. About 100 undergraduate students engage in faculty-mentored research each year with the support of ELI, and 52 are working remotely with research groups this summer, taking the skills and knowledge learned in the classroom and applying them to the process of exploration and discovery.
The research experiences of a few newly-graduated seniors are captured in the blog post “Four Undergraduate Researchers Share Their Work and Illustrate the Indisputable Value of the Experience.”
“I learned to learn,” wrote Hyoann Choi ‘20, a former biological engineering student who worked in the lab of assistant professor Esak Lee. “Every learning requires patience and consistency. I believe that the learning ability as well as the knowledge and technical skills I developed through the experience will be a firm foundation for my subsequent career path to graduate school.”
The blog details Choi’s role in helping to optimize a small-intestine-on-a-chip – an in vitro model that uses microfluidic principles to replicate the physiological environment of the organ.
“The blog is such a creative, vibrant way of letting people have a window into what's happening,” said Lisa Schneider-Bentley, ELI director.
That includes blog posts such as “Peer Educators Respond to COVID-19,” which gives a behind-the-scenes look at how students and educators are adapting to emergency online teaching and learning. And whether it’s overcoming a distance-learning challenge, or persevering through one of life’s other curveballs, ELI’s programs and blog are helping students find comradery.
“It is so valuable to have upper-level engineering students supporting younger students in their learning in first- and second-year core courses, but also in seeing ahead into the engineering curriculum,” said Schneider-Bentley, referring to the Academic Excellence Workshops program, and to ELI’s peer education model in general. “The blog humanizes these peer educators even further, beyond the classroom experience. The stories allow both current and prospective students to see their slightly-older peers – with various backgrounds, personalities, and majors – in these mentor and leader roles. They can see themselves in their shoes and have that inspiration, along with the immediate support.”
ELI is inviting the Cornell community to share their thoughts and feedback on the blog, and to participate in the comments section of each blog post.