University of Washington College of Engineering
A Community of Innovators
Secrets of an Ancient Professor
CCLI logo

Social Instruction Strategies

While numerous methods have evolved for fostering social learning, five have been emphasized in the present intervention. These are legitimizing differences to encourage diversity, guided instruction, reciprocal learning, active learning and collaborative learning. All five have proven influence on our five primary goals. The traditional ("lone ranger") style of learning in STEM curricula has transitioned from being undesirable to being unacceptable in the high tech workplace as it has evolved into the highly competitive and globalized environment of the 21st century. The increasing complexity of knowledge makes it impossible for an individual working alone to remain competitive with teams operating on "holistic" and "inter-disciplinary" models that require the use of a team of brains working together. Shulman et al. (2005) observes that "the more complex the activity, the more team skills are required by the participant." (page 45). The increasing pace of change has played a similar role in dooming the lone ranger to extinction as the state of knowledge is changing so rapidly that no one individual can keep up. Globalization translates to success for companies that adapt to competition and change through the use of teams. (Oberst & Jones, 2003, 2004). Finally, the value of diversity is best recognized and embraced in teams. Teams that value a diversity of opinions are more likely to succeed because different viewpoints protect a team from making "tunnel vision" decisions. These factors, in aggregate, make it unacceptable, for either industry or academia, to accommodate "lone ranger" activity in students (or STEM professionals) over the long term. Therefore, we must find effective ways to integrate social instruction strategies into the engineering classroom.

Main Strategies

  1. Legitimizing Differences to Encourage Diversity

    This strategy supports the retention of women and under-represented minorities to graduation and into the STEM workforce. When differences are legitimized in a social learning environment rather than "disappeared" as is often the case in a rigid passive learning environment, the overall sense of connection a student feels to his peers and STEM community is enhanced and engagement in learning is improved (Heath, 1991).

  2. Guided Instruction

    Guided instruction gradually reduces scaffolding of the student learning process until the student is able to discern and describe these broader impacts on his own. By using decreasing degrees of scaffolding, the responsibility of determining broader implications of technology transfers from the teacher to the student as the student is able to receive this responsibility and demonstrate the capability (Larkin, 2001).

  3. Reciprocal Learning

    Through this strategy, students explain their learning to other students and essentially take turns being the teacher with the teacher acting as a facilitator to assist the student-teacher in clarifying their ideas and activities. This process forces the student to put their ideas into words, which aids organization and retention. Reciprocal learning also improves meta-cognition which is the process of reflecting on the building of knowledge (Baxter-Magolda 1999, 2001).

  4. Active Learning

    Active learning is strategic, self-conscious, self-motivated, purposeful and is dominated by a meta-cognitive awareness of the purposes and goals of the instruction (Brown & Campione 1998). In the Contemporary Worlds intervention, the entire course is centered on active learning, identification of individual learning and personality styles, strengths & weaknesses, and purpose/goals/objectives that define a successful and sustainable career pathway for the individual student.

  5. Collaborative Learning

    To encourage collaborative learning, assignments must be re-structured to accomodate this strategy. One example begins with exposing students to real people who work with real applications. Guests speak to a chosen target area within the STEM major; recent articles complement the speaker's perspective on both contemporary applications and in conjunction with small group discussion, supports the student's preparation of the weekly written reflection. The weekly readings can be "jigsawed," so that during discussion, students are dependent on one another to obtain a well rounded perspective on the week's topic. Even though a student may only read one of four articles in a week's suite of reading, they are responsible for representing the entire suite in the written assignment.