Learning Styles Role Playing

(Goulet, Miller, Peet, Robakiewicz)

The Scenario

A group of students is working at the Project Center in Washington, D. C., on their IQP (Interactive Qualifying Project). Their project involves designing methods to analyze and mediate metropolitan area sidewalks for Montgomery County, Maryland. They spent a lot of time in the field looking at the sidewalks and learning about the stresses they receive, how engineers deal with those things and what the public’s perceptions are of sidewalk conditions. They now have a completed format for diagnosing problems, creating a database, and potentially correcting problems. The last part of their mission is to determine how to educate municipal employees in the use of these tools. This dialogue is a discussion among the four project students: Vince (Junior, Mechanical Engineering major), Adam (Junior, Computer Science), Rebecca (Senior, Biology and Biotechnology), and Kenny (Junior, Electrical and Computer Engineering). They are trying to decide how best to teach the municipal employees.

The Challenge

Based on the role play identify what VARK learning style each student represents/prefers and then discuss how you might focus your own teaching and curricula to accommodate these different learning preferences. Provide specific examples of how this might be done in classes that you plan to teach this coming year. After a period of group discussion one designee will report out to the larger group on your results and conclusions. Larger group discussion will follow these presentations.

The Players:

Vince. Believes that showing maps of where the various sidewalks in various states of decay are would be good. He also wants to use a flow chart to represent the whole repair process. People can only really figure out what something means if they can visualize it using a symbolic model or representation. He also thinks it would probably make sense to come up with some sort of graph that shows a cost/benefit type curve relating to sidewalk use, disrepair, and the need to fix the sidewalks. Maybe a computer instruction guide would be something the employees would make good use of.

Adam. Really feels a need to talk to the group of employees. He thinks that the IQP group could basically sit down and present them with all the necessary information to run the database and make the necessary decisions. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a question and answer session where the IQP group would serve as “experts” to attempt to answer questions about the system that the employees might have. While he thinks that it is probably necessary to provide some sort of manual on the material, he really doesn’t feel that most people would use it, or get very much out of it.

Rebecca. She has already begun work on an extensive manual. She thinks that there should be something available to read on the computer as well, but can’t imagine delivering the product to the employees without giving them a lot of background information in a loose-leaf binder. That way they will be able to add more notes about the system as they go along, and could try to make some sense out of all the confusing information that the project team and their on-site advisors are going to be talking to them about in various seminars.

Kenny. Kenny is really keen on putting together a multimedia presentation about the project and providing the employees with a CD that has all the “bells and whistles” and also allows them to link to interactive web sites about structural concrete. However, he really feels that the employees will not get the full understanding about what it is they need to do without a demonstration of the database and diagnostic tools. He thinks the whole thing would go down a lot better if they would take the employees into the field and show them some of the sidewalks that they used to model their project. Alternatively, the employees could be shown pictures of actual sidewalks in the various stages of sidewalk disrepair to give them a concrete idea of what they are dealing with.

The Dialogue

Rebecca: I don’t know what the rest of you think, but I think it’s really important to produce something concrete that the municipal employees can refer to, both for training right away and for their future reference. Like they won’t have a clue about what we’ve designed or all the work we’ve done, so we need to have something in writing that all the people involved in this work can read. I’ve already started working on a draft manual, and I’m thinking it should be available both in hard copy and on the web. There’s so much to cover that we’ll never be able to go over everything in a training exercise anyway, so this manual will be our lasting contribution to the County.

Adam: I don’t know, Becca. How many people really read manuals anyway? The ones I’ve seen never get used and are hard to read and understand. I think it will be better to just sit down with all the employees who will be involved in using our format and the database and talk them through it. We should go over each question on the format, what information we are trying to collect, and explain how the data get plugged into the database. After we’ve gone over the whole system once, then we can get them to ask any questions they have about what we said. I suppose having a manual to read will look good. I mean our advisors and WPI will want something like that, and the Municipal big wigs will have something to show for all the work we’ve done, but the bottom line is we’ve got to talk them through what we’ve designed or they’ll never get it. Don’t you think so, Vince?

Vince: Yeah, we’ve got to have something to show for all of our work, but it can’t just be a lot of words. How can you understand the problems with sidewalks unless you know where they are and what would need to be done to repair them? Words just won’t cut it. We need to include a flow chart to demonstrate each step in the evaluation and repair process. And then we should have detailed maps of where all of the sidewalks are, indicating which ones are in each stage of disrepair. Also we need diagrams of how our database is designed and lots of graphs showing how our data can be analyzed. You know, using the samples that we collected in Silver Spring, Wheaton and Bethesda. The cost-benefit stuff is what the Municipal guys really like, and using graphs to display the data is really a cool way to do that. I mean how will they know when it’s time to repair the sidewalks unless they know the economics of the whole thing?

Kenny: Look. What we really have to do is take these guys out to the streets and show them exactly what we are talking about, have them fill out our format right then and there while we are there to answer questions and then take them back to the office and help them plug the data right into our database. Talking about it won’t work and even pictures in a manual may not give them a full idea about how to use our system. We’ve got to demonstrate it to them by having them try it out, right from collecting the info on the street to plugging it into the database to analyzing the data to produce graphs and stuff. Rather than a manual, even if it’s on the web, I think a CD with all of this stuff on it would be the way to go. I know it will be extra work, but it should be really fun putting it together using a digital video camera and all that. That way training can be done by just playing the CD. We could have a lot of cool sound effects and visuals to make it fun and keep people from falling asleep, and we should make it so that every trainee can ask it questions and get answers back. You know, really interactive so that each employee can try it out.

Rebecca: A CD will be LOTS of extra work, and besides how can a CD answer all of the questions that come up? If we produce a manual, we can try to be really comprehensive so that there is always be a place to go when a problem arises. Besides, you know Prof. Verybright. He loves everything to be in writing. We’re sure to get an “A” if we give him a manual.

Adam: A manual doesn’t help us with our final oral presentation, and we need to have something we can present to our sponsor in person. I still think the easiest way to get through this is to sit down with everyone and talk them through it. After we have done that, maybe a manual can be produced, but without discussing it with everyone, how do we know what needs to be in the manual? A CD might be cool, but do we have time for that?

Kenny: We still have three weeks before we have to submit our Final Report, and if we can convince our Liaison Ms. Chatty that a CD would be the best way to go, then we can get her and her staff to help us with it. After all, it’s for them to use later on. I’m no good at teaching anyway, so a CD gets around that. Besides aren’t we supposed to be introducing new technologies to this place? Isn’t that what WPI is all about?

Vince: I think a CD is fine, but let’s be realistic. A manual with lots of maps, charts, graphs, diagrams and stuff like that is almost as good, and it will take a lot less work and accomplish the same thing. If we spend all of our time on a CD, we won’t have time to finish our Final Report, not to mention prepare for our Final Presentation. I don’t know about you, but I actually had plans to go to the movies and a rock concert at RFK stadium before we leave DC.