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Modifications To A Freshman Engineering Course Based On Student Feedback

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

How We Teach Problem Solving?

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.926.1 - 9.926.13



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Paper Authors

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Stephen Silliman

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Leo Hubbard McWilliams

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Catherine Pieronek

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

Session 3553

Modifications to a Freshman Engineering Course Based on Student Feedback

Leo H. McWilliams, Stephen E. Silliman, Catherine Pieronek

University of Notre Dame


The University of Notre Dame’s freshman engineering course is designed both to provide students with foundational skills in engineering and to provide information necessary for the students to make informed decisions when selecting a major. It was noted during the prior two academic years that a significant number of students (~10-15%) withdrew from the course (and, therefore, from engineering) prior to the midterm exam in the first semester. Two primary factors were reported for withdrawals within the first seven weeks of the course. First, students indicated significant apprehension regarding the level of programming required (programming had been added to the first project in 2001). Second, a number of the students who withdrew were convinced (without firm evidence) that the majority of other students in the course were more proficient at programming.

These observations led to modifications to the first project with the dual goals of improving the educational experience for the students and retaining a greater percentage of students through the first semester. First, the emphasis was changed from programming and physics to engineering as an application of math, science and computing. The students now utilize existing computer packages, rather than developing their own programs, to assist in the development of an engineering solution. This allows students to focus on design rather than on the details of programming. Second, an Audience Response System (ARS) now provides immediate student feedback during lectures. The ARS is used to query students regarding the pace of the course and their comprehension of the material. The responses have demonstrated to both the faculty and the students that there is tremendous diversity among the students in terms of skills and understanding. Third, the opening lecture and select applications have been geared towards altruistic reasons for remaining in engineering. Fourth, evening “help” sessions are offered on a regular basis to provide struggling students with access to regularly scheduled review and assistance.

As a result of these changes, approximately 99% of the students that were enrolled on the last formal day to add courses (considered the day on which students have committed to taking the course) completed the first semester course. Nearly 77% of these students were also enrolled in the second semester course. Student feedback indicates that, while some intimidation remains regarding the use of computers, the delay in the introduction of programming and the knowledge that other students are “in the same boat” is a major factor in providing students with the confidence to complete the course.

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Silliman, S., & McWilliams, L. H., & Pieronek, C. (2004, June), Modifications To A Freshman Engineering Course Based On Student Feedback Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13197

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