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Applying Lean Thinking to the Structure and Delivery of a Kinematics Course

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2018

Conference Session

Learning and Assessment in ME 2

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

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Paper Authors


John A. Mirth Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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John Mirth is a professor of intruction in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department at the University of Iowa. Prior to this, he had positions at the University of Denver, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He obtained his BSME degree from Ohio University and his MSME and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Minnesota.

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The proper application of lean management techniques to manufacturing processes typically results in process improvements. While the educational process may seem to be somewhat disparate from manufacturing, many of the principles of lean thinking can also be applied to the educational process. This paper examines the implementation of lean management principles in the design and delivery of a traditional lecture-based engineering course – Kinematics of Machines. A large part of the standard engineering curriculum is taught using a traditional lecture-based course delivery mode. The course considered in this paper, Kinematics of Machines, is fairly representative of a lecture-based course. Kinematics is commonly taught as a third year course in the mechanical engineering curriculum. The format of a typical kinematics course relies on lectures, homework, exams, and perhaps a design project as a means for transferring topical knowledge from the instructor to the students. In this paper, lean thinking principles are applied to redesign the kinematics course format to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the knowledge transfer process. Because kinematics is taught in a common engineering course format, the model presented in this paper is transferrable to a number of other engineering courses. Lean thinking focuses on the definition of the “value” being produced by a process, and the flow of the value through the production stream. A typical value for college courses is the knowledge associated with the course topic with the flow of the course being dictated by the process of transferring this knowledge from the instructor to the students. Proper application of lean thinking improves knowledge transfer in a course, making the process both more effective and more efficient. This paper demonstrates that the implementation of lean thinking at the course level does not require the development of new pedagogical techniques, but rather the proper use and arrangement of existing methods. The first step in modifying the structure of the kinematics course is to build the course around course outcomes rather than course topics. Five outcomes were identified for the kinematics course. A corresponding outcomes-based grading format (specifications grading) was then applied as a means for measuring the student progress through the course. Exams and partial credit grading were eliminated from the course format to remove interruptions and defects from the course flow. Course content was flipped with notes and mini-lectures placed on the learning management system for the course. This made the course content continuously available to students, allowing them to move at their own pace. Classroom meetings focused on active student engagement with students working on assignments and projects, maximizing their ability to interact with one another and the professor. The above course design demonstrated a number of advantages of applying lean thinking to engineering education. Once prepped, a consistent course content is available for multiple sections of the course, as well as future offerings. This saves significant prep time. The use of short video lectures allows for continuous improvement of course delivery by providing students with the ability to provide feedback on the videos and allowing the videos to be updated to clarify points of confusion. The elimination of exams improves the learning process by making an additional 10% of course meeting time available for student interaction. Defect free requirements for homework and project submissions produces a higher level of student commitment to their work and promotes greater learning, while reducing the time required to grade assignments. Student response to the course, obtained via an end of the course survey, indicates a positive reaction to the course that is consistent with the observed behavior of the students during the course. Students favored the mini-lecture videos over live presentation of course material, with many students viewing any given video multiple times. Students took advantage of the outcome based assignments to progress at their chosen rate, with several students finishing the course one or two weeks prior to the end of the term. Proper application of lean thinking produces win-win scenarios. From an engineering education perspective, the win-win scenario is a consistent course offering, with students continuously progressing through the course in a setting that allows the professor and students to maximize individual interactions. An additional win is the minimization of interruptions to the knowledge transfer process with the ability to provide real time feedback that allows students to repair and eliminate defects in learning while also reducing time spent by the instructor in evaluating student submissions.

Mirth, J. A. (2017, June), Applying Lean Thinking to the Structure and Delivery of a Kinematics Course Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio.

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