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Mechanical Engineering Activity-Based Freshman Course Online During a Pandemic

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Virtual Instruction in the First Year II

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Dani Fadda P.E. University of Texas at Dallas

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Dr. Fadda is Associate Professor of Practice in Mechanical Engineering. His background includes two decades of engineering practice in the energy industry where he has held numerous positions. Dr. Fadda has worked in product research and developed patented products for chemical, petrochemical, and nuclear applications. He is an ASME Fellow and a Professional Engineer.

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Oziel Rios University of Texas at Dallas

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Dr. Oziel Rios earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 2008 where his research focused on design of robotic systems with an emphasis on kinematic and dynamic modeling for analysis and control. Dr. Rios teaches the first-year and CAD courses in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. Rios has also taught kinematics and dynamics of machines and graduate-level CAD courses. Dr. Rios’ research and teaching interests include: robotics, design, kinematics and dynamics of machines and engineering education.

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This evidence-based practice paper includes a temporary transformation of a first-year activity-based mechanical engineering course to a fully online, asynchronous format. During the global pandemic of 2020 and its corresponding shutdowns, activity-based courses with large enrollment, requiring face-to-face interaction, are not considered safe. Many are transitioned to an online environment, posing a complex challenge for instructors to ensure their students meet the course learning outcomes. An important aspect of an activity-based course is hands-on work with guidance from faculty, teaching assistants, and graders. Activities, traditionally used throughout our first-year mechanical engineering class, are physical, conceptual, or based on simulations. They are performed in a lab where two students form a group and work together on each activity. These activities are delivered temporarily in an online format using asynchronous video instruction, engineering software, and a discussion board in an organized homepage in the learning management system. The activities are updated to eliminate physical contact, keeping them conceptual or based on simulations. They are also modified so they can be performed individually while some teamwork aspect is retained. A Computer-Aided Design (CAD) conceptual design activity and a heat transfer simulation activity are used as basis for comparing student’s work in the in-person and online formats. In the CAD conceptual design activity, students are asked to create an innovative mechanical tool. A criterion based on the definition of the concept, the CAD model, and the practicality of the tool is developed then used to evaluate student performance and compare student’s work in the online and in-person formats. In the heat transfer simulation activity, the students are asked to perform hand calculations and compare their results to those of a numerical simulation. A criterion is also developed for this activity to evaluate student’s work based on their ability to perform calculations, set-up and run a simulation, and interpret simulation results. The in-person and online course structures are described in this paper. Results of the comparison are used as evidence of the effectiveness of the online delivery of the conceptual and simulation activities.

Fadda, D., & Rios, O. (2021, July), Mechanical Engineering Activity-Based Freshman Course Online During a Pandemic Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37495

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