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Enhancing Learning In Mechanical Design Using A Model Eliciting Activity

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Emerging Trends in Engineering Education Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.668.1 - 12.668.11



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Paper Authors

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Brian Self California Polytechnic State University

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James Widmann California Polytechnic State University

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

Enhancing Learning in Mechanical Design using a Model Eliciting Activity


Traditionally, students in Mechanical Engineering are taught to approach design from a failure perspective. Mathematical models for stress, strain, strength and failure are typically presented in a lecture format and reinforced though the solution of homework problems. The students are then asked to integrate this knowledge during the solution of more or less open-ended projects to gain experience in the design process. This paper reports on a different method of reinforcement of mathematical models and failure concepts through the use of Model-Eliciting Activities (MEA).1 An MEA is a client driven problem that requires the students to develop a mathematical model not explicitly stated in the assignment. The client driven approach can create an environment where the students value abilities beyond using the traditional prescribed models and algorithms.2 While traditional design projects focus on the product being developed, MEAs focus on the process of problem solving and model development. The originators of MEAs propose six primary principles to utilize when developing a new problem.

1) The Model-Construction Principle requires that the students come up with a procedure for explaining a “mathematically significant” situation and stresses discovery learning. 2) The Reality Principle puts the problem in context and offers a client who needs a realistic engineering solution to a problem. 3) The Self-Assessment Principle enables students to analyze their problem solutions and revise their approach to open ended problems. 4) The Model Documentation Principle teaches students to create a mental model of their process in solving the problem. Documentation of their model and solution is often in the form of a memo to the client. 5) The Generalizability Principle asks students to develop models that other students (and the client) could easily use, and models that can be adapted to other similar situations. 6) The Effective Prototype Principle ascertains that the problem is relatively simple to implement but still solves the given problem.

Based on these principles, an MEA was created and implemented in a junior level mechanical design course to help students develop a deeper understanding of their newfound knowledge in predicting fatigue failure. Assessment of student outcomes is made through student surveys, a grading rubric, and a Quality Assurance Guide.


The ability to assimilate different information and create usable models is a critical skill for engineers. Equally important is the ability to frame and solve ill-defined problems. A fairly new technique which evolved in the mathematics educational community attempts to address these skills by creating problem sets called Model Eliciting Activities (MEAs)1. Teams of students are provided with a client-driven problem, most commonly in the form of a request from a fictitious

Self, B., & Widmann, J. (2007, June), Enhancing Learning In Mechanical Design Using A Model Eliciting Activity Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2223

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