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Project-Based Learning: Teaching Engineering Design Not Tinkering

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Potpouri - A Mix

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.995.1 - 23.995.16



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Paper Authors


Scott F. Kiefer York College of Pennsylvania

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Scott Kiefer has spent the past eleven years teaching mechanical engineering at four different institutions. As an exemplary teaching specialist in mechanical engineering at Michigan State University, Scott received the Withrow Award for Teaching Excellence, given to one faculty member in the College in Engineering for outstanding instructional performance. Scott specializes in machine design, vibrations and controls, and mechatronics. He started his career at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez in the traditional role of teaching and administering a modest research program. At Trine University, a small private school in Angola, Indiana, Scott taught ten different courses from introductory freshman courses to senior design, while serving as adviser to many undergraduate research projects. He recently moved to York College of Pennsylvania where he has been able to concentrate on undergraduate education in mechanical engineering.

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Stephen N Kuchnicki York College of Pennsylvania

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Dr. Stephen Kuchnicki has been an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at York College of Pennsylvania since January 2008. Previously, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Rutgers University, specializing in computational modeling of dynamic deformations in solids. His areas of technical expertise include solid mechanics, crystal plasticity, vibration, and fluid-structure interaction. He received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 2001.

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Project Based Learning: Teaching Engineering Design Not TinkeringAbstractEngineering educators are continually faced with the challenge of supplying employers withyoung engineers who possess the skills necessary to analyze and solve real industrial problems.Industry has specified, and ABET reinforced, that mechanical engineering graduates need to beable to accurately apply design analysis and mechanical design principles within realisticconstraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety,manufacturability, and sustainability. In addition, students need to function on multidisciplinaryteams, have good communication skills, and use modern engineering tools to solve problems.These requirements suggest that engineering courses should be using real life problem basedlearning throughout the curriculum. Research has also indicated that a good percentage of thehigh quality students who are dropping out of engineering are doing so because they have eitherlost interest or actually come to dislike studying it. This point provides another argument forincluding problem based learning in engineering courses, and also provides an argument forhaving our students experience the complete design, test, and build stages of a design project.However, there can be a danger in including all aspects of design development in problem basedlearning assignments. Students tend to concentrate more on the build and test issues and ignoresome of the critical aspects of the design work. This can lead to our students becoming backyardinventors and tinkerers rather than mechanical engineers.This paper describes an effort to address two issues using problem based learning in mechanicaldesign courses. First, it makes an argument for and describes the details of using problem basedlearning. It explains through examples how problem based learning can be an effective way tobetter connect good students to mechanical engineering and produce high quality mechanicalengineers ready to solve mechanical design problems. Second, it discusses the issue of insuringthat the problem based learning projects are achieving the desired outcome—good designengineers not tinkerers. Assessment is provided in the form of student feedback and individualstudent project evaluation as judged by faculty and industry representatives. A historicalperspective of using problem based learning in mechanical design courses is also included toprovide evidence as to some of the pitfalls that can arise.

Kiefer, S. F., & Kuchnicki, S. N. (2013, June), Project-Based Learning: Teaching Engineering Design Not Tinkering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22380

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