Laman and Brannon recognized for research in interactive learning

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Jeffrey Laman, professor of civil engineering at Penn State, and Mary Lynn Brannon, former instructional support specialist for the Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education at Penn State, recently received the American Society for Engineering Education 2015 Stephen J. Ressler Best Paper Award for their paper titled “Integration of Prerequisite Resource Materials in a Structural Design of Foundations Course Using Pencast.”

The team received the award for their research using the Livescribe smartpen to create pencasts in an effort to improve the student learning experience in design and capstone courses.

Livescribe smartpens are battery operated “computer” pens that allow users to create an electronic file of handwritten notes for viewing on a smartphone or tablet while also recording audio that synchronizes with the written notes as they progress.

Laman realized that creating pencasts using the smartpens might be the answer to the reoccurring issue of students not remembering key information from previous lectures or courses. Utilizing the pens to create resource materials and making them readily available to students allows them to review that material without using up valuable class time.

“We can’t reteach the information,” Laman said. “So we wanted to provide easily accessible resource materials. The pencast allows me to develop mini lectures that are less than 10 minutes long, and students can watch my handwriting on the screen, just like a classroom example.”

In a normal recorded lecture, seeing the professor speak can be a distraction to students, keeping them from focusing on the material at hand. With pencast, the pages are laid out before them and they can see the whole presentation.

“The nice thing about pencast is it’s ghosted,” Laman said. “As I write, it shows up in green pen, but the whole lecture is visible in light gray, so they can see what’s coming.”

This ghosting capability allows students to skip around at their discretion.

In order to test the effects of incorporating the pencasts in senior design course instruction, Laman developed eight 10-minute “talking PDFs” using the tool and used those lectures in his Structural Design of Foundations course. He then observed whether or not the students displayed improvements in their overall quiz scores.

Laman said there were some improvements in test scores, and it definitely lessened the need to allocate class time to review materials.

Brannon then developed a questionnaire to see if students liked the new, more interactive teaching method.

“The students’ reactions have been extremely positive,” Laman said. “They really like these things.”

Laman said the project is ongoing, and he plans to triple the current eight-video library.

The award was presented at the June 2015 ASEE Annual Conference held in Seattle, Washington.

The Stephen J. Ressler Best Paper Award is given for the best paper on a topic in civil engineering education. Eligible papers include, but are not limited to, those published in the ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings.

“None of us are in it for these awards,” Laman said. “But it is a nice validation that Penn State is doing things right and making some good progress in trying to do a better job with undergraduate education.”

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Last Updated September 17, 2015