June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
The paper is part of our efforts to develop curricula, specifically designed to challenge the students to cross boundaries and solve problems in different disciplines. Specifically, the paper discusses results of introducing faculty on-going research in the areas of human and protein kinematics within a junior mechanical engineering Kinematics of Mechanisms course, with the main goal of preparing the students to be critical thinkers, cross-disciplinary problem solvers and life-long learners. In the paper the term “integrated research” is used to refer to all categories of research involving integrated multiple disciplines. The Kinematics of Mechanisms is a lecture course, which presents knowledge on the analysis, design and construction of mechanical systems, such as serial and parallel linkages, cams and gear systems and robot manipulators, to name a few. During the Fall 2016 semester, new experiences in the form of interactive activities, including research projects were developed and incorporated within the course. These activities were specifically designed to enhance the students’ knowledge of how the above-mentioned mechanical systems appear in other domains, such as Biomechanics and Biochemistry with the main idea of giving the students the opportunity to not only cross but also integrate boundaries and use current knowledge in their own area to solve research problems in other disciplines.
Results related to the three desired learning outcomes (critical thinking, intellectual maturity and responsibility for own learning) were assessed through anonymous surveys. The results were based on students’ as well as faculty perception. Part of the assessment was indirect and required the students to outline questions that they were asking themselves while working on each project. A comparison between the results from two sections of the class, both taught during the Fall 2016 semester, one with and one without the incorporated new activities, showed that presenting a series of multidisciplinary projects, designed specifically to complement each other, improves students’ critical thinking, intellectual maturity and responsibility for their own learning. The intellectual growth was the category that improved the most, based on students’ and faculty perception. In addition, the difference in students’ performance on the project content and presentation between the two sections resulted in a difference of about 20%. This shows that the developed methods prove efficient not only for learning new material, but also in transferring learned skills to tasks of greater difficulty, i.e. interdisciplinary activities that are not necessarily within the typical mechanical engineering kinematics of mechanisms domain.
The idea of enhancing a junior mechanism kinematics course with research activities related to application of gained knowledge in different domains is novel and provides interesting and promising perspectives, showing that such activities increase the students’ knowledge and interest in learning, and at the same time enhance their critical thinking and intellectual growth.
Although the new projects and lectures were developed specifically for mechanical engineering students, with sufficient changes the activities could be adopted in Health and Kinesiology, Biology, Biochemistry or Biotechnology courses in future. This will allow for continued data collection to assist our efforts in the development of curricula specifically designed to challenge students to cross boundaries and solve research problems in other disciplines.
Keywords: kinematics of mechanisms, protein kinematics, biomechanics, biochemistry
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