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Empowering Cadets To Take Ownership Of Their Learning – Perspectives From The U.S. Air Force Academy

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.416.1 - 6.416.9

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Paper Authors

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Gregory Shoales

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Cary A. Fisher

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

Empowering Cadets to take Ownership of their Learning Perspectives from the US Air Force Academy

Cary A. Fisher, Fellow, ASEE and Gregory A. Shoales, Member ASEE


Engineering faculty must not only facilitate learning the specific knowledge embodied by their major field, but also the progression of their students to higher levels of learning. Freshmen generally require significant guidance while learning core subjects of their engineering discipline. As students progress through their undergraduate program, courses require more synthesis of the core subjects to the solution of increasingly open- ended problems. Most engineering programs culminate in capstone design experiences for the students. Such capstone experiences are intended to be the ultimate expression of ill-defined problem solution for the students prior to graduation. A critical element in the student’s maturation through the learning process is that they become, to quote ABET, “independent life-long learners”. To this end, the Department of Engineering Mechanics at the US Air Force Academy adopted the title phrase as the focus area for their students or cadets as they are known. Empowering cadets to take ownership of their learning, when applied to the classroom, has nearly as many interpretations as there are faculty members. The following is a presentation of techniques tried by our department faculty to address the department’s focus area and the results. Despite what often may appear as diametrically opposed approaches, each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. All methods provide key insights for engineering educators as they strive to produce the independent life-long learning engineering graduate.


As a professional in industry, as a professor about to embark on a research proposal, or as an Air Force officer given a short-suspense (time critical) project, we seldom (if ever) have the opportunity to hear a lecture on our problem, project, or proposal. Instead, we are expected to solve it on our own, using whatever resources we can find! We know from experience to talk to knowledgeable colleagues, dig out relevant information from books and manuals, and perhaps even refer to an old long- forgotten undergraduate text and lecture notes. In short, we have learned the importance of taking ownership of our learning. We have learned how to learn.

Think back to your undergraduate days. In how many classes did you almost dare the professor to teach you anything? Remember the required humanities or political science course, taught by a boring professor, who droned on about topics that, you believed, had no relevance to your engineering major or future profession? Sometimes even a required upper-division engineering course fell into this category. Perhaps you felt, as many of our cadets do, that it was up to the instructor to show you exactly what you needed to read, learn, and do in the most efficient manner to maximize your course grade with minimum effort. If his lectures were entertaining, the text was


Shoales, G., & Fisher, C. A. (2001, June), Empowering Cadets To Take Ownership Of Their Learning – Perspectives From The U.S. Air Force Academy Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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