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Challenging Students' Values and Assumptions Through Project-Based Learning

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Capstone Courses and Project Based-Learning

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.269.1 - 24.269.15



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Paper Authors


Diana Bairaktarova The University of Oklahoma

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Diana Bairaktarova is an assistant professor of engineering practice in the College of Engineering's School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Diana has over a decade of experience working as a design engineer. Her research is focused on human learning and engineering, i.e. understanding how individual differences and aptitudes affect interaction with mechanical objects, and how engineering students’ personality traits influence the ethical decision-making process in engineering design.

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Mary K. Pilotte Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Mary Pilotte is an associate professor of engineering practice in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana. She leads the first-year engineering instructional operations group, is an instructor for first-year engineering and multidisciplinary coursework, and was recently appointed director-designate for the undergraduate Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies and Multidisciplinary Engineering program. With over 20 years of industrial work experience, and supportive of her academic roles, Mary actively leads academic outreach to industrial firms to develop in-classroom, project-based, active learning through identification of “real life”, in-context problem scenarios.

Pilotte’s research interests involve understanding engineering culture, identity, and communication in the context of professional engineering practice. Expanded interests include understanding student benefits associated with in-context active learning, innovative distance learning, and global learning experiences. She holds a bachelor of science degree in organizational leadership and supervision from Purdue University, an M.B.A. from Emory University's Goizueta School of Business, and a Ph.D. in engineering education from Purdue University.

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Nathan McNeill University of Colorado Boulder

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Nathan McNeill is an instructor in the University of Colorado, Boulder/Colorado Mesa University mechanical engineering partnership program. He has a Ph.D. in engineering education from Purdue University, an M.S. degree in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a B.S. degree in engineering from Walla Walla University. He also has six years of industry experience and recently spent two years working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida, where he studied the relationship between epistemology and engineering problem solving.

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Challenging Students' Values and Assumptions Through Project-Based Learning Learning through the exploration of problematic situations is not a new educationalapproach. If we trace the origins of problem-based learning back to early educational forms wewill see that Socrates presented students with problems that, through questioning, enabledstudents to explore the values and assumptions that they apply to problem solving. Literatureshows that this kind of increased understanding and examination of perspectives and frameworksis encouraged through problem-based learning because it offers students opportunities toexamine their beliefs about knowledge in ways that lecture-based learning and narrow forms ofproblem-solving learning do not. John Dewey, the father of educational phylosophy more thancentury ago argued that instruction should be based on students interest where students areinvolved in real life activities and chalenge. The pedagogical importance of inductive learningmethods, such as project-based learning, create environments where students are driven by theirpassion, curiosity, engagement, and dreams. This research examines the outcomes of foundational engineering courses (specificallyThermodynamics) and investigates the processes that promote or undermine students’ learningwithin stimulating academic environments that incorporate project-based learning in a globalcontext. In the study, sophemore engineering students were given opportunities to choose aproject (to focus on one of three small countries and write a proposal for a thermal energy systemto meet the electrical generation needs of that country for the next ten years. The project neededto include an explaination of the need for additional electrical power generation capacity in thecountry that each student has chosen, the resources (or lack thereof) that are available formeeting those needs, and the economic situation in the selected country. In the proposal studentsneeded to explain the proposed technology to meet the needs in the chosen country and providejustification of their choice of technology. Specifications for the system including the powergeneration capacity, the maximum theoretical efficiency of the system, working fluid, and aschematic diagram illustrating the components and configuration of the system also needed to beincluded. In addition, students were asked to discuss the environmental, societal, and economicimpacts of the proposed project. The student reports were evaluated using a grading rubric. A questionnaire was used to assess student engagement in the project and to identifyaspects of the project that were engaging and/or challenging. Results of the questionnaire werecompared to students’ scores on the project and correlations were identified.

Bairaktarova, D., & Pilotte, M. K., & McNeill, N. (2014, June), Challenging Students' Values and Assumptions Through Project-Based Learning Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20160

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