Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Peer-Led Team Learning in Mathematics Courses for Freshmen Engineering and Computer Science Students

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Peer-Led Team Learning in Mathematics Courses for Freshmen Engineering and Computer Science Students

Article excerpt


Peer-led Team Learning (PLTL) is an instructional method reported to increase student learning in STEM courses. As mathematics is a significant hurdle for many freshmen engineering students, a PLTL program was implemented for students to attempt to improve their course performance. Here, an analysis of PLTL for freshmen engineering students in mathematics courses over three years is presented. The particular issue of concern is if a student's performance in their mathematics courses improves significantly with frequent participation in PLTL groups.

Student performance in their mathematics course was evaluated through course grades. The level of participation by the students in their PLTL groups was determined through weekly attendance reports, with mentors assuring that all students participated fully while present. Grade comparisons were made both between participants who attended different numbers of group sessions and between participants and non-participants in their courses.

Analysis of the students in the program suggests that increased participation in the PLTL groups correlates to better course performance. Data indicate that statistically significant subject mastery is achieved by PLTL participants in Calculus I courses. However, while Pre-Calculus level students show some improvement, the results are not consistently statistically significant. In general, it is found that greater participation in PLTL groups is beneficial for many students. PLTL groups offer educational benefits to many students, but participation does not guarantee improvements for all students.

Keywords: peer-led team learning, freshmen engineering, college algebra, Calculus, engineering math

1. Introduction

Peer-led Team Learning (PLTL) is an educational technique developed ini- tially for Chemistry courses that is designed to enhance student learning of the subject matter by fostering interaction between students in the course as they help each other to learn (Gosser 2011). The technique has subsequently been demonstrated to be successful in a variety of STEM disciplines courses (Baez- Galib et al. 2005; Hockings et al. 2008; Horwitz et al. 2009; Lewis and Lewis 2005; Lewis 2011; Lyle and Robinson 2003; Lyon and Lagowski 2008; Preszler 2009; Tien et al. 2002; Wamser 2006). While there are more reported results available for science courses, researchers have shown that the technique can be successful in mathematics and engineering courses as well. For example, Liou- Mark et al. (2010) applied PLTL methods to PreCalculus courses, and found that considerable improvement in the performance of participating students was gained. Loui and Robbins (2008) and Loui et al. (2009) used PLTL in fresh- men electrical engineering courses, and found that students with regular at- tendance at the sessions performed much better on their final exams in some, but not all, semesters. Furthermore, qualitative responses indicated additional benefits for the students, such as fostering a greater sense of belonging among the students. Overall, Gosser (2011) found that, across a number of studies, the average percentage of students receiving a C or better in their courses was 15 percent higher for students participating in PLTL groups versus students not participating in the groups.

With this evidence in mind, PLTL groups were initiated at a large urban research university in the Midwest region of the United States in the fall 2009 semester. These groups were designed for incoming freshmen students in engineering and computer science. They were primarily organized around the students'mathematics courses. Secondarily, students in the same intended field of study were placed together in the groups when possible. For reference purposes, the courses for which study groups were used are listed in Table 1.

The general content of the courses is as follows. Math 105 covers algebraic techniques involving such topics as polynomials, exponential and logarithmic functions, conic sections, and systems of linear equations. …

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