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Fuel Cells And Discovery Oriented Instruction

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Trends in Energy Conversion/Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.629.1 - 9.629.6



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Paper Authors

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Camille George

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

Session 2233

Fuel Cells and Discovery-Oriented Teaching

Camille George Programs in Engineering & Technology Management University of St. Thomas, St. Paul Minnesota

Abstract Fuel cells and the hydrogen economy are mentioned in every media outlet. However, the average graduating mechanical engineer does not know any more about fuel cells than an interested layman. Are our future engineers equipped with the inquiry-based skills needed to adapt to rapidly changing technologies? A fuel cell engineering class has been introduced at the University of St. Thomas (UST) where students were challenged to acquire new information, to collect data, analyze it and express an educated opinion. The pedagogy of the class was discovery-oriented. The approach was in stark opposition to the established lecture, textbook, homework and exam tradition. Students initiated their own learning, an experience that cannot be overemphasized for future problem solvers. Assignments included student-led lectures and discussions, a formal laboratory notebook, and a final thought experiment written in the form of a proposal. Students’ experimental proposals, lecture topics, and lab experiments will be presented in this paper.

Introduction Engineering education must create innovators. How does one gather new information, assemble it in some meaningful way, examine it, criticize it and comprehend it? The goal of the class was to lead the students through the different phases of thinking skills. These skills are more often practiced in liberal arts classes such as sociology or journalism. Engineering classes are usually taught as a fixed body of knowledge of which the professor is an expert. Chapter readings and homework are assigned, exams have right and wrong answers, and solutions are known by the professor. In reality, few industrial problems are like text-book end-of-chapter problems. Real life situations are full of incomplete and unknown data, setbacks and puzzles. Engineers are supposed to design and build new products, devices or processes.

Many engineers of today and tomorrow will work at the cutting edge of their profession. In today’s world, they must be equipped to go from project to project, often having to engage in a large amount of self-study to ‘get up to speed’ on a certain problem. Unfortunately, on the undergraduate level few students are given the opportunity to learn in an open learning environment where they must take responsibility of synthesizing large amounts of material from disparate sources.

One of the most important public issues of our time is the cost, production, and impact of our energy usage. Oil, gas, nuclear, and alternative energy have consequences for our natural world. To engage effectively in the discussion, one must have grounding in critical scientific and mathematical thinking. Today’s students will be called upon to use established knowledge mixed

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

George, C. (2004, June), Fuel Cells And Discovery Oriented Instruction Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13284

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