WIP: Implementing Mini-Projects to Build Community and Improve Student Engagement

Leon Liebenberg, Taylor Tucker

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


At the core of successful teaching and learning lies a change in student attitude. A great learning experience should elicit enthusiasm and help students become more motivated and self-directed. As students often report low motivation due to a lack of self-regulation skills or insufficient engagement with their peers, it follows that social and emotional engagement are necessary complements to cognitive engagement. This study explored a whole-student pedagogical strategy that melds cognitive and emotional learning in a mandatory, sophomore-level, face-to-face thermodynamics class. Our whole-student approach uses a series of four self-directed mini-projects (i.e., complex design modules divided into smaller segments) to better engage students in creatively solving real-world problems. Based on their learning preference questionnaires, students were placed in diverse teams of three to four with the intention of generating a sense of community and promoting creative thinking. Each mini-project was comprised of both open-ended and well-defined nontrivial analytical questions that addressed contemporary energy-related challenges. Teams were also expected to reflect on energy options for the future and interpret the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To promote accountability and critical evaluation, teams peer-reviewed one another's mini-projects. This study uses data from participant questionnaires (n = 77) to analyze the efficacy of using mini-projects in a face-to-face learning environment. The questionnaires, which targeted cognitive and emotional engagement constructs pertaining to the mini-projects, were evaluated using descriptive statistics and factor analysis. The results suggest that mini-projects can help foster self-directed learning and enhance self-awareness by providing students with valuable insight toward their own learning styles. Students' development of self-awareness during this process can in turn help them regulate and improve their learning behavior as well as develop critical thinking skills by conceptualizing and articulating their thinking in a disciplinary context. Findings from this work may contribute to the development of teaching strategies that can enhance and facilitate improved student engagement. Implementing a series of self-directed mini-projects can also improve self-regulation skills and help generate a sense of community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Aug 23 2022
Event129th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Excellence Through Diversity, ASEE 2022 - Minneapolis, United States
Duration: Jun 26 2022Jun 29 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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