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An Inductive Approach To Teaching Courses In Engineering

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Learning and Teaching Issues

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.197.1 - 8.197.19



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Paper Authors

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Stephanie Farrell

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Robert Hesketh

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C. Stewart Slater

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

Session 2003-2531


Robert P. Hesketh, Stephanie Farrell, and C. S. Slater Department of Chemical Engineering Rowan University 201 Mullica Hill Road Glassboro, New Jersey 08028-1701

Reviewer Comments: This was an interesting and informative paper. One thing that I would like to see is an assessment of student learning using the inductive approach vs. the deductive approach. This would probably be a long-term longitudinal study, taking lots of your time, but it would be worth it. In Table 3, it is not clear which method of teaching was used for the 1999 and 2002 classes (deductive and inductive, respectively?).


This paper presents a method to teach several courses in engineering that will appeal to the inductive learner. A deductive learner prefers to proceed from general to specific, while an inductive learner prefers to proceed from specific to general. Studies have shown that induction promotes deeper learning and results in longer retention of the information to students. Induction, in many cases, is also the method in which the original material was discovered! This style of teaching is relatively rare in engineering courses and is almost non-existent in textbooks.

Instructors can teach inductively by presenting familiar phenomena, practical issues, or experimental observations before presenting a general principle. Surprisingly, most textbooks still use an exclusively deductive approach, proceeding from first principles and governing equations to specific applications. Since there are relatively few textbooks that are written using an inductive approach; this makes implementation of the inductive method a challenge. Another challenge is that students typically will not have a wide range of experience or intuition needed to begin the inductive process. A simple laboratory experiment or demonstration will provide the foundation (observations or data) from which the inductive process is initiated.

We have integrated inductive learning into our coverage of a number of our courses includeing: • Fluid Mechanics I • Heat Transfer • Mass Transfer • Transport Phenomena • And Freshman Engineering

In heat transfer, for example, simple heat exchanger design is the first topic addressed in the course. Discussion of the significance of the overall heat transfer coefficient provides a meaningful framework for introduction of topics such as conduction and convection, which are introduced later in the course.

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Farrell, S., & Hesketh, R., & Slater, C. S. (2003, June), An Inductive Approach To Teaching Courses In Engineering Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--12220

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