Dodge Evaluation Question 1

Question 1: How does the course function with respect to nuts-and-bolts issues?

As this question involves numerous aspects of the course, a number of specific questions were used to investigate the day-to-day functioning of the course:

Are the objectives and requirements of the course clearly stated?

After each project, students were asked open-ended and likert-like scale questions about the clarity of the objectives and requirements (see Appendices C and D). Students in both sessions rated the objectives and requirements of both the telephone and solar units as being clearly stated and easily understood, but several students were unsure of the underlying objectives of the telephone unit and/or the goal of the solar unit.

The limited confusion on the part of the students is probably due to the way in which the course was introduced. For the first session, most of the information on the purpose of the course, including goals, objectives, and requirements, was contained in the first packet of materials. This packet was distributed on the first day of the class, with the expectation that students would read it all by the next morning. Little in the way of additional introductory information or activities was provided. While most students claimed to have read the entire packet, their excitement, nervousness, and busy schedule on the first day may have impacted their ability to comprehend all of the detailed information that was provided to them.

During the second session, more in-class, verbal introductory material was presented. This seemed to alleviate some student confusion with respect to the objectives and requirements of the telephone unit. For both sessions, students were slightly unfocused when they began the solar unit. Possible causes and suggestions for improvement are covered later in this evaluation report.

Are the handouts easy-to-read and timely/useful?

Telephone unit. Students felt that the handouts were generally easy-to-read, useful, and distributed at appropriate times. Many first session students thought that the copies of the actual, 19th-century patents, caveats, and notebooks were hard to read, but an attempt to provide clearer copies to second session students resulted in fewer complaints about the copying. The "Do-It-Yourself" handout, which contained instructions for building different types of transmitters and receivers, were frequently cited as being the most useful handout. The copies of the patents and caveats were often mentioned as the least useful handouts.

The fact that students did not find the patents, caveats, and notebooks to be either readable or useful is interesting. The teacher clearly instructed the students that they did not have to read the patents and caveats on the first day, and that they were there strictly as examples of a patent and caveat from the 1870s. Yet almost all of the students read the material by the next morning (and complained about the quality of the photocopies and the 19th-century English). With this in mind, second session students were told that they should not read the patents and caveats. The purpose of the material was reinforced at least twice on the first day. However, students still did not seem to understand the limited purpose of the materials.

Solar unit. Students also felt that the handouts for the solar unit were generally easy-to-read, useful, and distributed at appropriate times. There were no comments on the legibility of the handouts, but several first session students remarked that the A. C. Rich patent was difficult to understand. Students from both sessions did not find the handouts, specifically the patent and advertisement, to be applicable to their project. Again, the purpose of the patent and advertisement (i.e., as an example of a modern patent) were explained to the students when the packet was distributed. Students were also told that they didn't have to read the packet. Student comments about the readability and lack of applicability of the solar handouts declined in the second session students, indicating that the emphasis on explaining the purpose of the handout during the second session was effective.


Do quality and quantity of materials meet student needs?

As will be the case with the first iteration of any new course, student use of materials is hard to predict. However, logistical problems were minor at best. Students were able to find what they needed, or the instructors obtained it for them with 24 hours. In the few, isolated cases in which students complained about lack of materials, the situation was either a result of their own actions (e.g., dropping the flashlight, blowing the multi-meter fuse, misplacing tools, playing with materials in ways not related to the course) or were unnecessary. For example, one student demanded specific sizes of wood panels and boards and could not be convinced that they were not necessary. However, after considerable effort was utilized to obtain the wood, the student did not use them for his group's project.

With respect to the solar unit, students requested more access to research materials, especially the university libraries that were within walking distance. In the telephone unit, a great deal of reference material was provided to the students -- they also were only modifying pre-existing designs. In the solar unit, students were provided with considerably less in-class material. Many of the groups also designed inventions that were not modifications of previous designs. The combination of these two things necessitated greater use of library resources.

Interestingly, students did not comment on surveys or during interviews on the use of internet-based resources in their inventing processes. However, some of them were overheard discussing the merits and advantages of the internet. Perhaps the limited access restricted the usefulness of on-line data retrieval. Many students also wanted to use computers to prepare their patents and caveats (both text and drawings) as they were working with their models. A majority of these students have access to computers for word processing at home and/or school, and the absence of computers in the classroom was a barrier to be overcome for may students.


Is enough time provided for students to work on projects during and outside of class?

Students generally felt that enough time was provided for each unit (both in and out of class), although they lean toward wanting more time. However, the complaints about a lack of time were strongest from certain members of the second session group -- ironically, due to a modified schedule and the lack of a guest speaker, there was more time available for students during the second session. For those students who were highly enthusiastic, highly challenged, and highly motivated, a year-long course would have been too short. Conversely, the few students who did not enjoy their experience in the course would have felt that one week was too long.


Do activities and the schedule allow program objectives to be met?

Although some scheduling issues are mentioned above, some "nuts-and-bolts" aspects of the course need to be further analyzed. Most of the following suggestions were provided to program staff during the first session of the course, and substantial modifications were made to some activities during the second session.


  • Numerous activities were designed so that reflection would be structured into the course: the group feedback activity, preparation of the caveat, guided journal entries, group and individual notebooks. However, although students claim to appreciate the role of reflection (see below), a majority frequently acted without considering the consequences and attempted to solve problems only through tinkering. The reflection components of the course improved student attitudes toward reflection, but not their use of it. This aspect of the course needs further development.