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Mary–Colleen Jenkins and Tina Loucks–Jaret present award winning work at the UW Teaching and Learning Symposium

June 29, 2021

Mary-Colleen Jenkins and Tina Loucks-Jaret, Lecturers in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering who teach courses within the College of Engineering's Engineering Communication Program, are recognized with award-winning work at the University of Washington's 2021 Teaching and Learning Symposium.

Jenkins and Loucks-Jaret standing outside Mary-Colleen Jenkins and Tina Loucks-Jaret, HCDE Lecturers

The annual UW Teaching & Learning Symposium is hosted by the Center for Teaching and Learning and co-sponsored by several units within the University. The Symposium brings together faculty, staff, and students from UW's three campuses to build conversation and community around teaching, learning, and related research. 

Mary-Colleen Jenkins and Tina Loucks-Jaret teach technical communication courses for the College of Engineering's Engineering Communication Program, courses that are required for all Engineering majors. Introduction to Technical Communication (ENGR 231) is the introductory course, and Advanced Technical Communication in the Engineering Workplace (ENGR 333) is the advanced course. For the 2021 Teaching & Learning Symposium, Jenkins and Loucks-Jaret wrote and presented work about using break out rooms to increase student engagement, bias-free and inclusive language for Engineering students, and fostering collaborative teams in online learning. Jenkins and Loucks-Jaret were recognized by the judges for their timely relevance to remote learning, and the concrete strategies that can be applied to many different courses.

Presented works


Breaking the Silence in Break Out Rooms: Increasing Student Engagement

By Mary-Colleen Jenkins

This poster explains my strategy for using Break Out Rooms to help students engage with one another, collaborate on class content, and feel less isolated in “Zoom University.”

In collected surveys and reflections assignments, students report a lack of connection with other students in their online classes. Like never before, they are grappling with loneliness and isolation, and remote learning exacerbates these problems. Student reflections reveal that without frequent opportunities in their classes to spend time with peers, they do not know how breach this sense of isolation. This is especially true for students who are new UW.

Break Out Rooms (BORs) are a natural tool for building student engagement in the classroom. However, many instructors don’t know how to set students up for success in BORs. All too often this excellent tool becomes a burden for students instead of an opportunity.

Silence is the biggest challenge to successful BORs. If students do not speak, they can’t engage with one another. When this happens, BORs become a frustrating waste of time.

Successful BORs come from a balance between direct guidance from the instructor via specific written instructions and a class-wide expectation that students will take charge of achieving the BOR goals together.

Here I share tips for detailed BOR instructions that accomplish several things: (1) establish a shared goal, (2) give each student a role in reaching that goal, (3) connect the activity directly to course material, (4) help students use their BOR time effectively, and, (5) establish a foundation for student engagement with their peers.

This structure can be applied to any synchronous online course. The upfront work in designing the instructions is well worth the time. Instructors might notice attendance stays high and more students turn their cameras on and keep them on throughout the quarter.


Conversation Starter: Implicit Bias, Inclusive Language, and Engineering Students

By Mary-Colleen Jenkins and Tina Loucks-Jaret

Part of the curriculum in ENGR 333: Advanced Technical Communication is inclusive/bias-free language in the workplace. However, after the 2020 national reckoning on race and institutional racism, we wanted to do more.

Here we share our 5-week seminar-style discussion of implicit bias and the conscious use of inclusive/bias-free language in the workplace. We centered our class discussion on the book Blindspot, which we used in conjunction with other readings to enhance the connection between our conversation about implicit bias and the technical communication concepts taught in 333.

We had several goals: (1) balancing curricular goals with UW's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals, (2) discussing potentially triggering topics in a constructive way, (3) acknowledging the perspectives of international students as well as American students, and (4) remaining aware that students could perceive this discussion as politicizing an engineering class.

It was important to develop a classroom community in the first half of the quarter, so we waited until week five to introduce the readings, real-time discussions, and written reflections. We book-ended our dive into implicit bias via Blindspot with shorter articles demonstrating the professional use of inclusive language with specific examples of companies implementing DEI goals. Through discussion and written reflections, we learned that students are already thinking about DEI, and they want to be agents of change in their future workplaces. They appreciated a safe space and a structured approach to explore these ideas.

Instructors in all departments can adapt our strategy of integrating DEI into their courses by focusing on readings that reflect DEI initiatives in industry and by introducing inclusive and bias-free language guidelines that are common in the workplace.

Collaborative Learning Teams: Fostering Online Community and Collaboration

By Tina Loucks-Jaret

ENGR 231 draws students from several CoE departments and students typically do not know their classmates. This challenges instructors to create a sense of community as well as foster collaboration between students when they are placed in project groups. The pandemic exacerbated this challenge when classrooms moved online, leaving many students feeling adrift, isolated, and lonely.

To overcome this challenge, I created Collaborative Learning Teams (CLTs) where students are placed in small groups early and remain together the entire quarter. CLTs meet frequently for breakout discussions and group work that supports skills and elements of specific course assignments, including peer reviews, document analysis, and topic analysis. Students choose areas of interest via a Canvas survey and are grouped based on these topics. CLTs provide students a means to discuss and coordinate their topics for course assignments with an eye to the final team assignment. This coordination allows CLTs to build a topic theme and a library of source material from which they can pull as they develop and write their team-based white paper.

Student feedback on CLTs was overwhelmingly positive, as shown in comments on course evaluations and ET&L focus groups. Students enjoyed the smaller work groups and an opportunity to get to know other students in a way that the larger Zoom classroom doesn’t allow. They liked that CLTs were formed by topic area and appreciated having a common place to begin developing their team relationships. CLTs can be applied to any online and in-person setting where community and collaboration are keys to student success. To build on this positive response to CLTs, future surveys will target students’ satisfaction with the CLT approach, including whether they perceive an increase in motivation and course participation, improved academic performance, and a stronger sense of community and connection to other students.