June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
13.760.1 - 13.760.10
Integrating Applications in the Teaching of Fundamental Concepts
Student retention through to the successful completion of an undergraduate degree in engineering is of increasing concern to educators, policy makers, and, of course, students. It has been estimated that only half of those entering an undergraduate engineering program go on to complete the degree.1 This is particularly low when one considers that the bar to enter an engineering program is often higher than for other programs.2 By 2007, Dean, Anthony, and Vahala reported that the retention of engineering students had become a major undertaking for most institutions.3 As one of the largest engineering disciplines, awarding 21% of the 2007 engineering bachelor’s degrees,4 retention is a particular concern in Mechanical Engineering.
There are a variety of factors related to student retention, with grades and student interest being among the strongest. Grades, of course, are strongly correlated with retention but so is student interest. Studies of retention in engineering have found that over half of the students who left engineering either came to dislike studying it or lost interest in what they felt the profession offered.5
The use of “real life applications” in basic engineering courses is one possible way to both make the courses more interesting and to raise grades. Increasing student interest and grades has the potential to increase student retention. Integrating applications into the teaching of fundamental concepts has already been found to increase women’s recruitment and retention at Carnegie Mellon in computer science6 and at Drexel in engineering7.
As part of an National Science Foundation-sponsored project to change the undergraduate ME curriculum to make it more attractive to a diverse student community, the use of “real life” applications to teach fundamental ME concepts was explored. A series of applications-based lesson plans—covering concepts in solids, fluids, and design—were developed by ME faculty members from eight participating universities and tested in terms of their impact on students and on participating faculty. The participating colleges and universities were Johns Hopkins University; California State University, Los Angles; Michigan State University; Smith College; University of Washington; Stevens Institute of Technology; Howard University; and Tuskegee University.
There were several criteria that the applications and lesson plans had to meet. The first was that the applications needed to be familiar to the students. As Sue Rosser explained,
I see math classes where vectors are taught using sails and sailboats. This may work very well in [Maine]. I am originally from the Midwest, and I can tell you that there are a lot of students who have never seen a sailboat. They may never be able to understand the idea that you are talking about vectors and listen to the math. Because they are so panicked over the fact they know they are not familiar with the example, they think they can’t understand what this person is going to be talking about.8
Campbell, P., & Patterson, E., & Busch-Vishniac, I., & Kibler, T. (2008, June), Integrating Applications In The Teaching Of Fundamental Concepts Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3332
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