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A Case Study Of Course Clustering Strategy To Enhance Relational Learning

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Innovations in Mechanical Engineering Education Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.10.1 - 12.10.10

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Paper Authors


Ming Huang University of San Diego

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Ming Z. Huang is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at University of San Diego. Dr. Huang is a registered Professional Engineer and is actively involved in research focusing on integrating industry practices with engineering educations. Dr. Huang received his B.S. from the National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan in 1980, M.S. from the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island in 1984, and Ph.D. from the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio in 1988, all in Mechanical Engineering.

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James Kohl University of San Diego

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James G. Kohl is an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the University of San Diego. His research interests include the study of mechanical properties, durability, and foul release behavior of silicone coatings. Dr. Kohl received his B.S.M.E. from Western New England College in Springfield, MA in 1985, M.S.M.E. from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA in 1989, and Ph.D. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY in 1995.

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Veronica Galvan University of San Diego

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Veronica V. Galván is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of San Diego. Dr. Galván's reseach interestes include studying factors that enhance or impair memory. Dr. Galván received her B.A. in Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1995, and her Ph.D. in Neurobiology and Behavior in 2001 from the University of California, Irvine. While at Irvine, Dr. Galván was part of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Case Study of Course Clustering Strategy to Enhance Relational Learning


A case study of curriculum experimentation based on the course clustering strategy to enhance student learning is reported in this paper. The study involved, in an unconventional manner, clustering the courses in dynamics and design of machinery by changing their sequence from serial to parallel; namely, the two courses were offered in the same semester and taken by the same group of students. A third course on computer applications covering tools of MCAD and CAE was also included in this study, as part of the course cluster to further solidify the just-in- time, learn-and-apply process. Results from student performances and course surveys indicate that the study was a success and the course clustering strategy indeed improves student learning.


Traditional mechanical engineering curriculum typically follows a well accepted practice where courses in dynamics and design of machinery are offered in series. This is also typically the case at USD where mechanical engineering students take the two courses in the first and second semesters of their junior year. While the sequential arrangement seems to make good logical sense, it is not without drawbacks in its pedagogical effectiveness. A major drawback observed by the authors is the sense of disconnectedness demonstrated by students between the theories learned in dynamics and their applications in design of machinery as a result of the sequential separation, even if two courses are taken back to back.

Students learn and retain the knowledge best when the underlying theory is presented together with its applications and reinforced with opportunities to apply the concepts themselves1,2. This suggests that, in addition to opportune use of application examples at the topical level within the same course, it should also be beneficial to adapt the same learn-and-apply strategy across the boundary of courses between foundational and applied ones. In other words, related foundational and applied courses, such as dynamics, design of machinery and others, may be clustered with care so that, when taken together by the students and with proper executions by the instructors, they can amplify students learning responses in a way similar to that of a resonance phenomenon under forced excitations.

In this paper, we report a case study of curriculum experiment at USD based on the course clustering strategy to enhance student learning. The experiment, which took place in Spring 2006, involved clustering the courses in dynamics and design of machinery (formally MENG 375 Dynamics and MENG 380 Machine Design I in the ME curriculum at USD) by changing their sequence from serial to parallel; namely, the two courses were offered in the same semester and taken by the same group of students. It was postulated that 1) through careful coordination, basic dynamics concepts and knowledge needed for the applied design of machinery course could be covered in a just-in-time manner, and 2) coupling a foundational course (e.g., dynamics) with a directly related applied course (e.g., design of machinery) would accentuate the associations between materials and broaden understanding. In this experiment, a third course on computer applications (formally MENG 430 Computational Applications in ME) covering tools

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