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A Successful Freshman Engineering Course: An Active Learning Experience

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.49.1 - 3.49.8



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Arthur M. Clausing

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

Session 3253

A Successful Freshman Engineering Course: an Active Learning Experience

Arthur M. Clausing Dept. of Mechanical and Industrial Eng. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Abstract This paper describes a highly successful freshman engineering course that has been developed and taught for the last four years in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. This course is taught with a section size of 20 or fewer students with a faculty member and “Learning Assistant” assigned to each section. Nine sections of this one credit-hour course have been offered each fall semester with a typical total course enrollment of 180 students. This paper addresses why the value of this course greatly transcends that of a typical one-hour course, and how a maximum section size of 20 can be maintained at a large research university without undo demands on our faculty.

The stated objectives of this course are: (i) to introduce our students to the fields of mechanical and industrial engineering in a small-section environment; (ii) to develop communication, computer, and team building skills, and (iii) to conduct a detailed examination of a commercial product in order to understand its engineering content. Currently, a two-cycle leaf blower is disassembled, studied, reassembled, and tested.

Course Objectives and Goals The course described in this paper has been taught for the last four years in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (M&IE) at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign (UIUC). The objective that precipitated the development of this course was a desire to establish much earlier contact with our entering freshmen. Five years ago, the first departmental course taken by our students was in the first semester of their junior year. As a consequence, many of our potential graduates had transferred to another major or dropped out of the university before they had been exposed to an M&IE course or faculty member.

For a freshman course to be a quality experience and accomplish many of our objectives, we concluded that a small class size was an absolute necessity. Thus, we have limited the size of the sections of our “Discovery Seminar” to 20 students and have taught nine sections of our course each of the past four fall semesters. Each of these nine sections is taught jointly by a faculty member and an outstanding senior—the Learning Assistant (LA). This arrangement ensures that each incoming freshman learns to know well an M&IE faculty member, one of our outstanding seniors, and several of their classmates during their very first semester on campus.

The course consists of two one-hour lectures, nine two-hour laboratory periods, and a one-hour tour of selected departmental laboratories, teaching and research, and student projects, for

Clausing, A. M. (1998, June), A Successful Freshman Engineering Course: An Active Learning Experience Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/1-2--7439

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