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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 102 (2013) 340 - 351

6th International Forum on Engineering Education (IFEE 2012)

An Investigation into the Preparation of High School Students to

Pursue an Engineering Career

Huda Al-Qahtania, Souad Aqeela, Hind Barnieha, Asma Goubaa , Dawood Hjeija, Mohamed Salema, Mohamed Zouroba, Beena Ahmeda, Ghada Salamaa, Tricia Kerrb,

a Texas A&M University at Qatar, Doha, Qatar b Department of Education, Qatar University, Doha, Qatar

Abstract

All new students admitted to Texas A&M University at Qatar undertake a course entitled Foundations of Engineering I (ENGR 111); an introduction to the engineering profession and its required skills. It has been established that most of the freshmen students who join the University face significant challenges in this course and thus struggle in completing their engineering degrees. The goal of this research was to determine the main reasons behind the observed weaknesses. Detailed student surveys and class room observations were designed and then conducted in eight local schools to assess the extent to which students were introduced to five basic engineering skills that form the essence of the foundation course. Results of these surveys indicated that students were introduced to the appropriate sequence of steps needed for analytical thinking throughout most of the classes. As for problem solving, although an appropriate sequence in solving a specific problem was followed in 97% of classes observed, no explanation was given on why that specific answer was selected and alternative approaches to solve the problem were not suggested. Students were also given limited exposure to teamwork. Students were also rarely involved in design activities and infrequently encouraged to contribute with suggestions or ideas. Finally, during the classrooms observations, it was noticed that the students were not exposed to online resources to do their research and assignments.This research has shown that there exist significant weaknesses in the Qatari high school resulting in the poor preparation of the students for careers such as engineering. The results have provided an insight on how the ENGR 111 course should be reshaped to satisfy the needs of the future incoming students. Moreover, these results can be shared with schools in Qatar to assist them to better prepare their students for an engineering degree.

© 2013TheAuthors. PublishedbyElsevierLtd.

Selectionand/orpeer-review under responsibilityofProfessorDr Mohd. Zaidi Omar,AssociateProfessor DrRuhizanMohammadYasin, DrRoszilah Hamid,DrNorngainy Mohd.Tawil,AssociateProfessorDr WanKamal Mujani, Associate Professor Dr Effandi Zakaria.

Corresponding author.

E-mail address: asma.gouba@qatar.tamu.edu

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Professor Dr Mohd. Zaidi Omar, Associate Professor Dr Ruhizan Mohammad Yasin, Dr Roszilah Hamid, Dr Norngainy Mohd. Tawil, Associate Professor Dr Wan Kamal Mujani, Associate Professor Dr Effandi Zakaria. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.10.749

Huda Al-Qahtani et al. /Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 102 (2013) 340 - 351 Keywords: Qatar; Engineering; Texas A&M University; Challenges; Skills; High schools; Problem solving; Analytical thinking;

1. Introduction

Engineering is defined as the application of mathematical and scientific principles to be able to design and build machines, devices, systems and processes. Apart from the traditional engineering education, successful engineers need leadership, great communication and problem solving skills [1,2]. A recent national report proposes that engineering graduates are "ill-prepared to solve real problems in a cooperative way, lacking the skills and motivation to continue learning" [3]. Consequently, engineering institutions are ameliorating curricula to introduce hands-on, active-learning techniques, and open-ended design problems into many courses [4-7]. Similarly, Engineering professors have increasingly begun to read the education literature and to attend ASEE conferences and teaching workshops, and some have attempted to adopt new approaches in their teaching [8].

In Qatar, secondary school students show a significant interest in engineering mainly because of the strong demand for engineers in the local market. This is due to the increasing oil and gas megaprojects conducted in the area which led to rapid growth in industry and infrastructure. The three main motives for the increasing interest in pursuing an engineering education are the greater job opportunities, higher status of engineers in society, and family influence. However, upon entering university, students struggle to understand what engineering actually entails and the qualifications of the engineering profession. To help them to get over their struggle, students are introduced to engineering through a course titled 'The Foundations of Engineering' at TAMUQ. It is aimed at helping students gain a clear understanding of 'what engineering is all about'.

Texas A&M University at Qatar offers its students a variety of courses in different areas to prepare them thoroughly for the workplace. Its engineering program starts with a two part sequence of an introductory course to engineering titled "Foundations of Engineering I" (ENGR111). The content of this course was developed to show engineering students from all disciplines how to apply technical and non-technical skills on a project-based instruction. The non-technical skills mainly include problem solving, design and Group work skills. Solving problems and designing their solutions represent the cornerstone of the engineering endeavor. Employers look for engineers who are effective at solving open-ended problems. Engineering accreditation demands evidence that students can tackle open-ended problems proficiently.

However, it was noticeable that a large number of freshman engineering students at TAMUQ have a hard time understanding the objectives of the ENGR 111 course, hence, go through a heavy load of pressure to acquire the necessary skills that are introduced in the course. The issue is that those students are well prepared in mathematics and science. But, they cannot seem to grasp the idea of applying the concepts in order to solve real | life problem.

A lot of students find it really hard to work with design and problem solving questions. This is not due to their lack of ability, but rather due to a lack of experience in their secondary schools. Therefore, their first exposure to engineering becomes a serious challenge instead of it exciting them about their future profession.

Difficulties that students face when solving questions can be strongly related to their lack of analytical thinking. Successful engineers consider analytical thinking an effective way to study things carefully. Recently, there has been a push to better prepare students for an undergraduate engineering curriculum by introducing them to various engineering-based activities and courses while still in secondary school [9]. Studies have shown that exposing high school students to project-based experiences promotes active learning and the development of problem-solving and teamwork skills [10]. Teamwork has been increasingly advocated by industrial leaders lately, to assure quality of the work done and increase efficiency. In high schools, integration of engineering principles into science instruction presented through problem-solving inquiry/discovery pedagogy can stimulate

students as well as enable them to recognize a direct link between their course work and the tasks performed by engineers in the real world [11].

To identify the major reasons that lead to the difficulties experienced by students in the engineering discipline in TAMUQ, a research about how Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) material is presented to secondary school students in Qatar and how well engineering activities are integrated into STEM curricula was conducted. The investigation would help in adopting better teacher strategies to enhance the learning experience in ENGR111. Moreover, the competency levels of students in these secondary schools can be described, and initiatives that can improve students' exposure to engineering in secondary schools can be recommended. Overall, this research is aimed at identifying the key skills that are required to enhance the capabilities of students and set appropriate learning objectives in the 'Foundations of Engineering' course.

2. Methodology

The goal of this research was to evaluate the students' familiarity with key learning objectives of ENGR111 which are: analytical thinking, problem solving, teamwork design, and design usage. We selected eight Qatari secondary schools from which we were granted permission to conduct the research; We visited schools, reviewed the curriculum for mathematics, chemistry and physics classes and surveyed the teachers and students of the years eleven and twelve.

The tools that were developed in order to help us examine the exposure of the students to the key learning objectives of ENGR111 are the following:

• Classroom Observation Protocols

• Teacher Surveys

• Student Surveys

2.1 Classroom Observation Protocol (COP)

The classroom observation protocol (COP) was developed to give the observer an insight on how to observe a class in session. The COP tests how frequently different skills are being implemented by both the teachers and the students. Those skills were divided into five sections according to the key learning objectives of ENGR111: analytical thinking skills, problem solving skills, teamwork skills, engineering design skills, and the use of technology. The COPs were conducted by two observers who had to rate each skill from 1 to 5. The sections were the following

• Analytical thinking: This section focuses on whether the students understood problems that the teacher assigned to them to solve in class and the students' knowledge of the formulas previously covered in the classes. They also recorded whether the teacher reviewed the steps needed in the problem to help the students solve the problem and whether he/she checked the students' answers.

• Problem solving: Here the observers recorded how the teacher approached the problem. They noted whether the students were engaged in the activity, and whether they were encouraged to identify the problem, asked questions, and whether the teacher explained the reason behind selecting one specific answer over another.

• Teamwork: for this section, the observers analysed the students' interactions with each other when they were asked to work on as a team to solve a certain problem. The observers recorded if the students divided the tasks amongst them and how well they worked together.

• Design: This sections focuses the projects, hands-on construction or design activities that the teacher assigns to the students in the class. The observers analysed interactions between the students and the teacher, especially the teacher's approach to explain the deliverables, and the students' reactions. Observers also noted the creativity of the students through the ideas they suggested.

• Use of technology: Observers evaluated the use of technology in the classroom, such as PowerPoint presentations, calculators, and online resources.

• In addition to this, observers recorded whether students took notes and asked questions during class. The data that was collected from the observations and surveys was recorded the Qualtrics online survey

software. Observers used tablet computer technology while in the classrooms to feed the information gathered into the program.

2.2 Teacher Surveys

Two main teacher surveys were developed in order to examine the teacher's effectiveness while teaching, basing that on the five engineering learning objectives.

• Teacher Demographic Survey: The purpose of this survey was to collect demographic data, such as the subject title, their degrees, and if they have a degree in education. A second section was created in the survey to gather information about their teaching years and experience.

• Teacher Survey: The teacher survey was developed to both evaluate how the teacher conducted a lesson, and also how the lesson was prepared. The surveys had questions concerning the Qatar National Curriculum Standards and whether the teacher applied these standards when conducting a lesson. Also, questions about the teacher's interactions with the students were included, such as giving them tasks to perform in groups, asking them questions, designating a student to answer, explaining the answer, and asking students if they understood what was explained. The survey included questions relating to the division of class time, discussion of the objectives with the students, whether conclusions were identified to the students in the lesson, and whether the teacher used technology when conducting a lesson. Another aspect of the survey was the methods used by the teacher to assess the level of understanding of the students, such as quizzes, graded homework, tests, and projects.

Surveys were distributed to teachers mainly as online forms through a link. Otherwise they were distributed as hard copies in case one could not fill the online form. Comparing schools, all of the teachers in the girls' schools filled out the surveys while only two teachers in the boys' schools did. Analysis of the surveys was made using Qualtrics software.

2.3 Student Surveys

Student surveys were developed to investigate students' views about the surrounding learning environment and their teachers as well. Topics that were covered in these surveys involved student understanding of the subjects, interactions with classmates, use of technology, and teacher's role in teaching. Those questions were categorized based on the five engineering principles discussed earlier. The way that student surveys were distributed was mostly as hard copies. Observers would then enter the responses into Qualtrics surveys forms. However, some students were able to answer the surveys electronically, by either filling them in a computer laboratory during their IT class or filling them at home where a link of the survey was sent to them. The overall results of the surveys heavily rely on the girls' responses to the surveys since the students in the boys' schools were not cooperative with the observers. As a result, a comparative analysis between the boys' and girls' schools was not possible.

3. Results and Discussion

"Qualtrics" was used to collect data from the eight participating schools in the study. The data collected from the classroom observations, and teacher and student surveys were analysed in order to determine how well each

of the engineering principles was incorporated into the learning process in the local Qatari high schools. Each of the following surveys has been divided into the 5 sets of objectives discussed previously.

3.1 Classroom Observations

3.1.1 Analytical Thinking

The teachers were doing a very good job in guiding the students through the analytical thinking process. It was observed that the teachers were explaining the requirement, appropriate steps were taken while solving problems, and the correct formula was being applied about 80% of the time. Also, about 83% of the teachers were checking the answers consistently throughout the class, more than half of the time and about half of the time. Analytical thinking is one of the basic skills engineers need in the course of their studies, and the students were being well-prepared in analytical thinking according to the observations. Most of the required applications of analytical thinking were either observed more than half of the time or observed consistently throughout.

3.1.2 Problem Solving

Although the observations in this part were scattered around the scale almost equally in most questions, it is safe to say that problem solving methods were clearly observed about half the time.

Most of the responses for the observations were noticed half the time. However, proposing different ways to solve a single problem was mostly not observed. This is one of the important parts of problem solving because it broadens the scope of understanding in the students. It helps them rely on themselves in going through the problem solving process instead of blindingly copying or repeating what was done in front of them.

3.1.3 Team Work

The lack of teamwork is one of the main problems observed in the classes. It is almost not observed in all of the schools. The results were the same for all the skills required for this objective. Teamwork is one of the most crucial skills required in university as well as in the workplace. This lack of team work is most likely due to the unawareness of the teachers of the importance of team work. Teachers give very few group activities to the students and when they do, students depend on one member to do the work, there is a lack of discussion among the group members and teachers poorly explain the task to be done. Also, it was observed that students don't have skills in distributing tasks among them fairly.

3.1.4 Design

In this part of class observation, the seven schools exhibit some good standards regarding design. For more than half of the time, the requirements of the given activity are clearly communicated by the teacher. However, it is noticed that students do not suggest a variety of ideas as this was not observed in more than 50% of the classes. This imposes the idea that they rarely perform effective team work and think critically.

3.1.5 Use of Technology

Technology use, by all its aspects, was generally not observed at all in about 85% of the classes. It was very limited in use. Online resources usage was not observed. These sources are considered one of the most frequent technology uses that students have to deal with when enrolling to college. Calculators were observed by some students in some classes. Usually, the teacher will give the calculated answers; few students will perform the

calculations on their own. Online assignments, support links were all not observed. The mostly-used technology in these schools is PowerPoint Presentations. However, very few presentations are interactive. Technology usage is the central pillar of the engineering education. If students do not have the experience and are not professional in using it to help their education, then, they will be lacking a lot of skills and information.

Results from the classroom observations showed that none of the identified key ENGR111 learning objectives were used in the learning experience provided to the students at the surveyed schools. All of the learning objectives were observed in less than 38% of the schools

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Fig. 1: Observation Results for All Skills

In general, all skills observed were not consistently seen in more than 40 % of the classrooms. Analytical thinking, for example, is a basic skill that was only observed in 38 % of the classrooms. The results for the observation of problem solving skills were also similar. In this case, only 24% of the surveyed schools adopted active problem solving strategies in the classroom. This meant that teachers were not consistently engaging students in activities that enhance their analytical thinking and problem solving skills.

Team work was the least observed skill, as only 7% of the classes had teachers that engaged students in team work activities. Team work is necessary for the development of communication skills and leadership qualities. Even when working in groups was the case, students lacked basic information that could help them organize their groups. Since group activities or projects were rarely assigned, students were unable to distribute tasks among each other fairly. In addition, certain students would not even participate in these activities.

As seen in Figure 1, engineering design was also minimally observed. All class activities were clearly stated and explained to the students giving them very little to no room for giving input or proposing their own designs and ideas. Design activities were only observed in 13.8% of the classes.

Technology use was observed in less than 14 % of the classes. The use of online resources, online assignments, and even calculators was not observed at all. These are important tools that are consistently used in university classrooms and exposure to these tools is very important for the students' college preparation. The use of Power Point slides during lectures was the only observed incorporation of technology in the classrooms. However, this limited the interaction between the students and the teachers. Finally, note taking and open questions were observed in 24.6% of the schools; a number that shows that less than a quarter of the students were truly engaged in the classes.

3.2 Teacher Surveys

Given below are the main points extracted from the teacher demographic surveys.

• All the teachers taught in their field of education

• All the teachers had a bachelor degree or higher

• Nearly half of the surveyed teachers had a degree in education

• The average teaching experience of the teachers was 20+ years

• The average teaching experience of the teachers for the current subject in grades 11 and 12 was 4-8 years

3.2.1 Analytical Thinking

This part of the survey showed that most teachers say they apply these standards always in their classes. They said they almost always prepare questions to engage students and inform the students of the learning objectives. They also said they have enough time to explain lessons and they give real life examples which help the students relate to the lesson. These standards go into the analytical thinking that helps students better understand lessons.

3.2.2 Problem Solving

Problem solving showed a very good result as teachers said they almost always follow the standards. As can be seen from the following columns, 70% to 85% of the teachers said they give students problems in class, enough time to solve them, and then review the solutions with students. However, this is self-reporting and can be biased in many cases.

3.2.3 Team Work

Teachers gave varied responses when asked about teamwork in class. When asked about assigning groups for projects, five teachers answered with frequently and always while 8 teachers reported doing that sometimes or less often. Most teachers said they always let the students choose the groups to work in themselves. This is not a good practice because universities and companies alike make their students/employees work in assigned groups which they cannot control.

3.2.4 Design

When asked about design, answers were also scattered. Most teachers said they sometimes give students activities involving building objects while almost a 1/3 said they do that frequently or always. However, almost half reported giving students building activities during class time. A discrepancy is obvious here between the two questions and no further conclusions can be made.

3.2.5 Use of Technology

6 out of 14 teachers reported using technology during class time to help explain lessons while 7 said they do it sometimes or frequently. When asked about the use of internet or other resources, 11 reported doing it frequently or always. The use of technology is also assumed to be a bit exaggerated considering they are self-reporting and the fact that classroom observations showed less use of technology.

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1 1 1 1 1 Analytical Problem Teamwork Design Use of Thinking Solving Technology Skills being taught

Fig. 2: Teacher Survey Results for All Skills

The above graph is a summary of what the teachers reported. Nearly 74% of the teachers recorded that they consistently use the skill of analytical thinking and 60.7% of the teachers felt that they discuss proper problem solving techniques in the class. Only, 38% of the teachers surveyed noted that they included teamwork in their class activities. It is also noticeable that 25% of these teachers observed that they gave student activities that involved the building of objects like modules of molecules, electric circuits. As for the use of technology, only about 35.75% of surveyed teachers identified that they used PowerPoint presentation, calculators, or online assignments in their classes.

3.3 Student Surveys

3.3.1 Analytical Thinking

The graphs above show the analytical thinking aspect and how the students reported it. Similar to the teachers' reporting and the observations, the analytical thinking part of the standards seems to be well-covered and taught. Most students reported understanding what the teacher asks for and that the teacher revises steps done in class almost always. Similarly, most students said they clearly understand what the problems ask for and what formulas to apply in problems.

3.3.2 Problem Solving

When it comes to problem solving in class, the answers showed that more than half of the students said they are given enough time to discuss it with classmates and are encouraged to think of different solutions. However, almost the same number of students gave an answer ranging from never to sometimes.

3.3.3 Team Work

The results of the surveys related to teamwork were a bit surprising as most students gave a good report of this objective. Most answers ranged between sometimes and always when asked about contributing to ideas in a group, distributing tasks between members, and accomplishing the given work.

3.3.4 Design

When asked if the teacher encourages them to be creative, most students said always or frequently. Nevertheless, almost half said that never, rarely, or sometimes happens. No direct question was asked about design building activities, but a comparison can be drawn relying on the observations and teacher reporting only.

3.3.5 Use of Technology

The answers for the use of technology in class varied according to the specific instrument/method used. Most students said they always use a calculator in solving problems. However, answers for the use of PowerPoint presentations and online resources were fairly distributed. Less than half of the students said that presentations always bore them, while almost 1/6 said it never does.

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Analytical Problem Teamwork Design Use of Thinking Solving Technology

Skills being taught

Fig.3: Student Survey Results for All Skills

Figure 3 presents the overall results of the five skills that are based on the survey responses. It was inferred that the results matched what was obtained from the classroom observations. A percentage of 39.7% of the students in all schools went through the basic phases of analytical thinking in their classes while 41.65% of the students practiced problem solving techniques. In contrast, teamwork occupied the lowest percentage compared to other skills where only 28.02% of the students were involved in teamwork activities during their coursework. Regarding engineering design, only 31.4% of the students mentioned that they participated in design related activities in class or even suggest any ideas during these activities. Finally, for the results on the use of technology in the classroom, such as the usage of PowerPoint and calculators, only 28.4% of these students reported that technology was consistently implemented in class. However, students do use technology outside their classroom environment in order to communicate with their classmates or team members for assignments or projects. Their methods of communication include messenger, Facebook, phone calls, WhatsApp, and twitter.

4 Comparison

4.3 Analytical Thinking

By looking at the analytical thinking graphs in both classroom observations section and student surveys, it was remarked that the correct formula or principle applied to solve problems percentages match in both graphs. Moreover, 175 students indicated in the student surveys that their teachers always revise the steps done to help them solve the problem and less than half of the above number indicated that teachers frequently revise steps to

help them solve the problems. However, the researchers observed that most of the responses ranged between "consistently throughout" and "more than half of the time" and those two numbers were very close. In both surveys, the highest number was accounted to "always".

The variations of these results is due to the fact that observers only attended few classes and recorded results based on those specific observations. Meanwhile, students are more familiar with their teachers' techniques of explanation in class.

4.4 Problem solving

The variation observed in this section has to do the time provided to the students to discuss and/or solve the problem. While only 45% of the students said that teachers always provide them with enough time to discuss problems with their classmates, around 80% of the teachers said they always do. Comparing these two numbers with the results obtained in the classroom observations, it is clear that there was a correspondence between classroom observations and student surveys results.

It is then concluded that the teachers expect a much quicker response from the students. While, the students need more time to solve questions.

4.5 Team work

The two aspects that were investigated in this section were the fair distribution of tasks among team members and the suggestion of ideas to each other.

While 78.5 % of the students indicated that they always, frequently or sometimes distribute tasks among each other fairly, the classroom observation indicates that 89% of the students don't. Also, it was observed less than 10% of the students were always suggesting ideas to each other while more than 25% of the students said that they always suggest ideas to each other. These results were inconsistent for various reasons; first of all, the observers only observed a few classes which mean that these results could be inapplicable to different classes, and second, the students could be biased when saying that would always contribute with ideas to the team.

4.6 Design

Contrarily to what the classroom observation indicate, the teacher surveys and the student surveys show correspondence in this particular section: About 50% of the students said that their teachers always and frequently encourage them to be creative and about 50% of the teachers said that they give students activities that involve building objects frequently and half of the time.

4.7 Use of technology

The use of technology results vary from one survey to the other. While almost 70% of the teachers claim that they use technology during class (PowerPoint, virtual labs, pictures, graphing programs, videos, etc.) either always or frequently 40% of the students said that the teachers use PowerPoint presentations to explain lessons. The classroom observations indicate that more than 30% of the teachers never use interactive technology and 40% of the teachers always use technology to explain lessons.

5. Conclusions

The purpose of this research was to investigate the reasons behind the weaknesses that Qatari High schools' students, who enrol to Texas A&M at Qatar, face in the "Fundamentals of Engineering I" course.

The engineering skills required for "Fundamentals of Engineering I"; Analytical Thinking, Problem Solving, Team Work, Design and Use of Technology, were all the major principles that team was investigating in the eight Qatari high schools that were asked to join the research. After investigating these principles, by surveying the teachers and students and observing Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics advanced subjects classes, it was concluded that restricting is needed for both the course as well as for high schools' curricula. This is due to the findings explained in the results sections. Mostly all of the Engineering principles are not being addressed efficiently especially Team work and Use of Technology. However, this doesn't exclude the fact that some of the schools showed great commitment by both their students and teachers.

6. Recommendations

It is recommended that ENGR 111 course activities be reconstructed in a way that helps students gain more hands-on experience. An example of these activities would be the construction of models that involve principles such as problem solving, teamwork, and the use of technology. Another recommendation would be that students who appear to be facing problems be provided peer support early in the semester in order to address their difficulties. Schools in Qatar should also re-evaluate their curriculums and incorporate more learning activities during classes. In addition, technology and teamwork should be emphasized through laboratory sessions, activities, and projects. Finally, the findings of this research need to be enhanced with further and deeper research. The Education process is by itself complicated. So, the team highly recommends higher educational institution of doing extensive research on the weaknesses that Qatari High Schools' Students face when it comes to applying Engineering Principles.

Acknowledgement

This work was made possible by a UREP award [UREP10-091-5-027] from the Qatar National Research Fund (a member of the Qatar Foundation). We would also like to acknowledge the support of the teachers and students who participated in the study.

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