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Academic Excellence Workshops in the College of Engineeering

Cornell University’s College of Engineering offers Academic Excellence Workshops (AEW) to enhance student learning of content in several key gateway courses in engineering. The AEWs are optional 1-credit supplemental courses that meet weekly for two-hour collaborative problem-solving sessions. Designed to enhance student understanding, the workshops feature peer-facilitated group work on problems at or above the level of course instruction. The peer facilitators are students who have recently taken and done well in the course. The AEW facilitators receive training on how to encourage and support students in working through problems as a group. They are trained to not just give answers or work additional problems for the student to watch, but to foster student’s ability to think about and understand how to approach problems with their group. Facilitators make use of a bank of problems for their course and also develop new problems for their own section and to add to the problem bank. The AEWs are based on research showing that cooperative methods (as opposed to an individual, competitive approach to learning) promote higher grades, greater persistence, deeper comprehension, more enjoyment in learning, and more positive attitudes toward academic work.

The AEWs courses support the 4 course math sequence (Calculus, Multi-variable calculus, Differential Equations, and Linear Algebra), the one semester Chemistry for engineers, both the Matlab and the Python version of the introductory course in computer science, the second course in computer science, and a calculus based statistics course. The physics course sequence is supported by its own supplementary courses run through the Physics Tutoring Center. The AEWs are graded pass/fail based on attendance. Spring semester 2014, there are 16 AEWs, each capped at 22 students. The small class size allows students to get more personalized feedback on their performance. Data shows that students enrolled in AEWs outperform their peers in the core courses. The student facilitators not only help other students, they report that they also gain skills that employers value such as effective public speaking, facilitating group activity, encouraging and supporting teamwork and cooperative efforts and learning from one’s peers. The Academic Excellence Workshop Program is supported by a mix of industry and foundation funding, individual alumni giving, and college resources.