June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
15.91.1 - 15.91.14
A SPIRAL Learning Curriculum in Mechanical Engineering
In this course development project funded through an NSF CCLI Grant, we are developing, implementing, and evaluating a new required integrated four-course sequence taught in the first two years of our ME curriculum. Each year will focus on a broad contemporary topic in Mechanical Engineering, namely robotic/mechatronic systems and sustainable energy systems. Using these themes we will introduce students to: the fundamentals of multiple engineering science topics, design practice and methodology, and the knowledge and skills required in professional engineering practice—all of which will be reinforced in, and expanded upon, in later more specialized courses. This new sequence attempts: 1) to address the well-publicized challenges of educating the current generation of American students with their short attention spans, expectations of immediate rewards, and limited “hands-on” experience (vs. years of “fingers-on” experience with modern electronic devices), 2) to improve our graduates’ professional skills as recommended by practicing engineers, and 3) to implement improved pedagogical techniques via an overriding “design as knowledge” teaching philosophy1 that will teach through an emphasis on model-based design and product realization in a Student-driven Pedagogy of Integrated, Reinforced, Active Learning (SPIRAL) approach. That approach applies Bruner’s concept2 of a “‘spiral curriculum’ that turns back on itself at higher levels” through repetition at ever increasing depths of knowledge. Our approach thus both distributes the teaching of basic engineering knowledge and skills through multiple courses and integrates their teaching throughout the curriculum via repetitive exposure in multiple courses, using multiple active learning approaches. This paper outlines our overall approach and philosophy, while three companion papers describe our initial experiences in the first course in this four-course sequence.
As shown in many individual studies and summarized in recent articles and books,3-6 when compared to traditional lecture courses, the use of active, co- operative learning and open-ended projects seems to: significantly enhance learning, retention and application of material; help non- traditional students in their learning; and motivate engineering students to remain in school. Many departments have successfully implemented subsets of the possible approaches (e.g., Fig. 1) in individual courses.
Figure 1. How people learn.5
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