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Interactive Learning Using A Spiral Approach In A Large Required First Year Mechanical Engineering Class

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Research on The First Year II

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.789.1 - 15.789.25



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Paper Authors


Stacy Bamberg University of Utah

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Stacy J. Morris Bamberg is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. She received her S.B. and S.M. in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and her Sc.D. in Medical Engineering from the joint Harvard/MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. She teaches the required freshman design sequence, the required junior mechatronics sequence, and electives in musculoskeletal functional anatomy for engineers and medical instrumentation and physiology. She is interested in the use of technology in the classroom and improving student outcomes through hands-on and interactive experiences.

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Debra Mascaro University of Utah

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Debra J. Mascaro is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. She holds a B.A. in Physics from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She teaches freshman design and senior-/graduate-level classes in microscale engineering and organic electronics.

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Robert Roemer University of Utah

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Robert B. Roemer is currently a professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. He received his B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University. He teaches courses in engineering design, and is interested in integrating the use of design projects and active learning throughout the curriculum to improve engineering education.

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

Interactive Learning Using a SPIRAL Approach in a Large Required First-Year Mechanical Engineering Class


The use of active learning is being implemented in a large, required first-year Mechanical Engineering two-course sequence that is part of a larger curricular sequence that implements a Student-driven Pedagogy of Integrated, Reinforced, Active Learning (SPIRAL) approach to learning. The educational gains that are possible from active learning are difficult to realize in courses with large enrollments and students with widely varying backgrounds, especially in these financially difficult times in large public universities. To overcome these difficulties we have begun using advances in communication technology, computer aided engineering (CAE) software, Computer Automated Manufacturing (CAM), and rapid prototyping tools to increase the amount of "hands on" interactive learning in our new sequence of two, large, required, first- year courses. Specifically, we are experimenting with: classroom student response systems ("clickers") to enhance small group interactive discussions and peer-based learning; CAE/CAM software and rapid prototyping technology to allow students to design and manufacture sophisticated components without overwhelming our machine shop resources; in-class demonstrations of engineering principles with oversized components and associated interactive student team discussions and clicker responses; inverting the lecture/homework paradigm by providing lectures on YouTube and using in-class activities to work on homework/example problems in small groups in class; elimination of some textbooks when lecture material can suffice in order to save the students money; hands-on laboratory experiments using inexpensive, mass-produced components made using the same rapid prototyping tools available to the students; and the use of semester- or year-long design projects integrated with the course material and constructed within stringent budget restrictions.


Many studiese.g. 1, 2 have demonstrated that cooperative learning with interactive projects significantly enhances learning, retention and application of material, helps nontraditional students learn, and motivates engineering students to remain in school, as compared with traditional techniques. Bruner presented a "‘spiral curriculum’ that turns back on itself at higher levels" through repetition at ever-increasing depths of knowledge.3 This pedagogy has been adapted for a large required first-year Mechanical Engineering class, using a Student-driven Pedagogy of Integrated, Reinforced, Active Learning (SPIRAL) approach, and is now being used in a second course, both of which are funded by the National Science Foundation as part of a four-course sequence. The large class size, the wide range of educational backgrounds of our students (since our introductory class has few pre-requisites), and their associated range of learning styles1 bring special challenges to implementing an interactive learning curriculum. Fortunately, many of the high tech advances produced by engineers in the recent decades can be applied to engineering education to provide students with interactive learning opportunities. Our techniques can be readily applied to other engineering disciplines (with an appropriate shift in focus) or common first-year curricula. The organizational syllabus for this class showing lecture topics, lab topics, and assignment due dates is available in Appendix 1.

Bamberg, S., & Mascaro, D., & Roemer, R. (2010, June), Interactive Learning Using A Spiral Approach In A Large Required First Year Mechanical Engineering Class Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16676

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