June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
13.63.1 - 13.63.15
A Modular Approach to a First-Semester Engineering Course: Teaching the Fundamentals of Fluid Mechanics
1. Introduction One of the most important responsibilities of a university faculty is to design the curriculum that their students will experience. The design of a first-semester engineering course is an especially important and challenging responsibility, because it forms the foundation of the students’ future educational experiences. Many different philosophies have been developed regarding the students’ first-semester experience as an engineering student, and each of these different philosophies has unique benefits and liabilities. While some conclusive statements can be made based on rigorous pedagogical research, it is likely that the unique culture and context of a particular university will require careful consideration and adaptation of any of these philosophies and structures in order to maximize students’ learning.
In this paper, we will first present an overview of several different methods being used to teach first-year engineering students at programs throughout the country. Next, a summary of the first- year engineering program at Valparaiso University will be presented, highlighting the modular nature of the course and the balance between classroom and hands-on experiences. This structure will be further illustrated by presenting a detailed description of the fluid mechanics experience presented to students in this course, and the paper will conclude with a detailed assessment and analysis of the effectiveness of that experience.
2. Review of Previous Work in First-Year Engineering Programs Several very different approaches to teaching first-year students have emerged over the past several decades. Each of them has merit, and each has arisen as a result of real needs of first- semester students. Considering these diverse systems and the learning objectives underlying each is an essential first step to designing a first-semester engineering course.
Traditionally, some first-year engineering courses have been similar to “freshman orientation” courses in other disciplines, which focus on skills such as time management, exam preparation, and, balancing work and social life.1 Such courses do not explicitly focus on engineering topics, but they provide engineering students with skills that will be valuable to them throughout their academic and professional careers.
Another traditional approach for first-year engineering courses is to provide students with an overview of the different engineering disciplines, helping them to select their major. Courses at universities such as Vanderbilt2 and Purdue3 provide such breadth of knowledge, helping their students to make informed decisions about their majors. Frequently, such courses are designed in a modular structure, such that students can complete different modules and different hands-on projects based on their particular interests. Enabling students to make an informed choice of major has traditionally been one of the most important objectives of the first-semester engineering course at Valparaiso University, and it is still a secondary purpose of the course.4-5
Other programs devote at least a part of their first-year program to teaching students to use computational tools and solve engineering problems.6-7 From spreadsheet skills to high-level
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