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All Active All the Time? What are the Implications of Teaching a Traditional Content-Rich Machine Components/Mechanical Systems Design Course Using Active Learning?

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Design Throughout the Mechanical Engineering Curriculum II

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


James M. Widmann California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Jim Widmann is a professor of mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He received his Ph.D. in 1994 from Stanford University and has served as a Fulbright Scholar at Kathmandu University it Nepal. At Cal Poly, he coordinates the departments industry sponsored senior project class and teaches mechanics and design courses. He also conducts research in the areas of creative design, machine design, fluid power control, and engineering education.

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Peter Schuster California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Dr. Peter Schuster is a professor in the mechanical engineering department at Cal Poly, focusing on design and stress analysis. He has a B.S. in Physics and an M.S. & Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. Before moving into academia, he worked as a design engineer and safety technical specialist at Ford Motor Company. His interests include biomechanics, design techniques, quality of life improvements, and finite element analysis.

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This paper examines the use of research-proven Active Learning techniques to transform the teaching of a traditional Machine Components/Mechanical Systems Design class. We know from research in Active learning that use of these methods can often lead to greater conceptual understanding and greater engagement of the students with engineering course materials, yet a common concern among engineering faculty is that the adoption of Active learning techniques will not allow the full breadth and depth of traditional content coverage. In this work, the authors reimagined one of the most content-heavy courses in a traditional Mechanical Engineering curriculum by including many Active Learning teaching and learning techniques. In this practice-based research project, the authors attempted to answer the following questions: 1) Could the students learn the breadth and depth of the content via Active Learning, 2) How do the students value the Active Learning experience as compared to a traditional approach and 3) Is the faculty experience such that it would motivate them to use Active Learning techniques in the future? In order to answer these questions, the course was redesigned to eliminate traditional lecturing and the solving of example problems by the instructor. Instead example problems are placed online to be reviewed by the student at their convenience (an element of the Flipped classroom) thus freeing up class time for various Active Learning experiences including conceptual questions, Think-Pair-Share activities, Ranking tasks, individual and team quizzes, and collaborative problem solving. Project Based Learning (PBL) was used through two large team-based design projects undertaken during a weekly laboratory session. A mixed-methods assessment strategy was employed to evaluate the success of these approaches. Quantitative data was obtained from final exam performance for both conceptual understanding and problem solving competency which was compared directly to the same class taught in a traditional manner. Other quantitative and qualitative data, including student’s attitudes and experiences, was gathered through a post class survey.

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