June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
11.873.1 - 11.873.11
Learning by Iteration: Evolving Capabilities in Aerospace Curricula
Electronic media allow engineering lectures to be covered in less than half the time it used to take. This paper explores the background and related issues, and argues for finishing the lecture material quickly, then using the time savings to revisit concepts, and integrate knowledge through several iterations. The experience from teaching five different courses at different levels is mined to gauge the lessons learned, and the improvements needed to use this new capability.
This paper considers the opportunities opened by electronic presentation1 of engineering course material. As course material gets completely converted, and classrooms become reliably equipped with electronic presentation facilities, instructors are finding significant changes. The time spent in drawing and writing on the board is saved, freeing the instructor to focus on the students. What was covered in a 75-minute lecture before, is now covered in 30.
A ‘safe’ option is to stretch out the lecture and add more examples and discussions. The down side is that many students are already put to sleep by the normal pace of lectures, which is set to accommodate the student needing the most time. Without the pressure of tests to intensely engage students, working more examples is generally a poor use of class time. Moreover, the really interesting possibilities are in putting everything together in realistic problems. This is best done with all the material already covered, but not at the end of the term when students face a steep rise in workload and pressure leaving little time for introspection.
The option proposed here is to finish the course material rapidly, and then revisit the content using integrative assignments. Dismissed as “drinking from a fire hose”, this is worth reconsidering given altered technology, expectations and learning styles. The questions are: • Can students absorb the first exposure to concepts and methods, much faster than we had assumed in laying out courses? • Is there merit in conveying the material quickly instead of taking twice as long to explain? • Can the time savings enable knowledge integration and achieve a far greater depth of understanding and experience than was possible before? These are fundamental to initiatives in improving engineering education, that run into the hard constraints on lecture time and credit hours for a degree. We are asked to include ever more topics, and teach them in ever less time. Can we reject a zero-sum game, and yet not dump information on students without enabling them to gain knowledge within the available time?
Learning Through Iteration
The idea that people learn better through several iterations is not new. However, applying this old idea within the constraints of an engineering curriculum remains difficult. The difficulty is in balancing the need for “training” with that for imparting new concepts in a fast-expanding field, within ever-tightening time constraints, to students who come in at the same age.
Komerath, N. (2006, June), Learning By Iteration: Evolving Capabilities In Aerospace Curricula Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1137
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