June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
15.325.1 - 15.325.11
Correlations Between Mechanical Aptitude, Prior Experiences, and Attitude Toward Engineering
Most engineering educators would agree that hands-on skills are important for success as an engineer. Two of the ABET criteria1 address hands-on skills to some extent: ability to design and conduct experiments and interpret data (criteria b); and ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice (criteria k). Six of the thirteen laboratory objectives described by Feisel and Rosa2 address hands-on skills: Instrumentation, Experiment, Data Analysis, Design, Psychomotor, and Sensory Awareness. While the emphasis in the early part of the 20th century was on the practical, it shifted to the theoretical in mid- century because it was believed that scientifically trained engineers would create more revolutionary products3. The pendulum has more recently shifted back to the practical with greater emphasis on project-based learning4. Even as engineering work becomes increasingly sophisticated, practical ability and intuition about physical phenomenon remain important.
In addition to grade point average, employers pay attention to practical experience. Recruiters routinely ask about hands-on experiences outside of classes during the interview process. There seems to be something transferable about practical hands-on abilities5. In other words, even if a new hire won’t be operating machine tools in their engineering job, employers seem to believe that the skills a student acquired by working in a machine shop transfer to better ability to tackle engineering problems. Surveys of industry representatives, academics, and students have found that “engineering practice” knowledge and skills and hands-on skills are highly valued by industry6,7.
Based on surveys of 406 graduates in mechanical and electrical engineering, McIlwee and Robinson8 conclude that mechanical know-how is more important to success on the job than to success in college (where math skills are especially important). “Whether or not they actually build prototypes or tinker with equipment on the job, they need to be able to present themselves as someone who is capable of doing so”. They further identify a “tinkering deficit” that puts women at a disadvantage in the workplace.
Students in engineering have vastly different levels of hands-on ability. Most of this ability seems to be learned outside of school in work and hobby experiences. Lab and project courses provide an opportunity to develop these abilities, but they can fall short in many ways: labs are cookbook and thus do not challenge students to figure out new approaches; labs are often done with partners or teams, and some students do not get hands-on experience; faculty hand off the teaching of labs to graduate students and do not invest a lot of effort in improving them; lab activity is designed to support the learning of theoretical concepts rather than to support the
Miller, M., & Pereira, A., & Hutchins, M., & Helton, W., & Bohmann, L., & VanArsdale, C. (2010, June), Correlations Between Mechanical Aptitude, Prior Experiences, And Attitude Toward Engineering Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16647
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