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A Study Of Challenge Based Learning Techniques In An Introduction To Engineering Course

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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

FPD12 -- Novel Approaches to First Year Programs

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.125.1 - 12.125.15



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Paper Authors


Christopher Rowe Vanderbilt University

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Christopher Rowe received his Bachelor of Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering and Master of Engineering degree in Management of Technology from Vanderbilt University in 1996 and 1998, respectively. He joined the Engineering faculty in January 2003. His research interests include technical program management and engineering education and is the Director of the Freshman Year for the Engineering Dean's Office.

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Stacy Klein-Gardner

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Dr. Klein teaches undergraduate courses in biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University. An active investigator in the development of new high school and undergraduate curricula through VaNTH, she is the author of the Vanderbilt Instruction in Biomedical Engineering for Secondary Science (VIBES) curriculum and runs training workshops in the Legacy Cycle and VIBES for high school teachers and college professors.

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

A Study of Challenge-based Learning Techniques in an Introduction to Engineering Course


The purpose of this study was to determine if there existed a difference in student learning by using challenge-based learning methods over traditional lecture methods in a setting beyond the biomedical engineering based studies that have already been completed. This study was conducted in the first half of ES140 – Introduction to Engineering, which is a required class for all entering freshmen with an enrollment of approximately 310 students. This study continues to apply concepts and materials compiled by the NSF-funded VaNTH-ERC applied to a general engineering course. There were eleven sections of this course taught in the Fall 2006 semester. About half of the teaching faculty taught using traditional methods employed for the past three years as a control group and the other half of the teaching faculty used methods provided by the VaNTH-ERC as an experimental group. Our first goal was to show that students learn more and can adapt their knowledge to various situations better using challenge-based learning methods than traditional lecture-based methods. Our second goal was to demonstrate that students taught in the challenge-based style were better able to articulate their understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the various computing modalities and when to apply these modalities to various analysis problems.

All eleven sections of this course were required to teach the topics of descriptive statistics, graphing and analysis, and matrix operations using each of the three techniques: paper and pencil, Excel, and Matlab. The control sections of this study moved linearly through these topics with teachers using their traditional teaching methods. The experimental sections of the study began the course with a grand challenge focusing them on determining the strengths and weaknesses of the different tools and computer software engineers might use. Instructors then introduced three challenges that helped students learn the content goals listed above for the course in addition to focusing continually on the strengths and weaknesses of the tools and computer software packages.

Three types of data were used in this study: survey responses, answers to test questions, and reflective responses. The surveys were required of students in all eleven sections of this course. These surveys were completed on-line and submitted to a database. The reflection activity consisted of short, open-ended questions asking students why they chose to use either paper and pencil, Excel, or Matlab to solve each of the mid-term exam questions. Blinded mid-term exams were scored by a grading rubric and compared statistically. The construction of the rubric used for comparing the test results and the reflection assignment focused on how students set up problems and adhered to the problem solving process presented in the class. Further, the decision on which computing modality chosen was examined by asking students to justify their

Rowe, C., & Klein-Gardner, S. (2007, June), A Study Of Challenge Based Learning Techniques In An Introduction To Engineering Course Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1520

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