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Research Skills In A Mechanical Engineering Curriculum

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Trends in Mechanical Engineering

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1041.1 - 13.1041.5



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Paper Authors


Erik De Graaff Delft University of Technology

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Erik de Graaff, Ph.D. is associate professor in educational innovation at the Faculty of Technology Policy and Management and head of the department of Education of Technology. In 2007 he was appointed as extra ordinary professor at Aalborg University in Denmark. He is associate editor of the European Journal of Engineering Education an active member of engineering education societies, like SEFI, IGIP, ALE and ASEE.

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Wim Thijs TU Delft

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Wim Thijs, Ph.D. graduated as a mechanical engineer in Delft. He runs his own independent consultancy firm and he is charged with running several educational innovation projects in Mechanical Engineering, one of which being the BSc assignment.

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Peter Wieringa TU Delft

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Peter Wieringa, Ph.D. is professor in Mechanical Engineering, department of Man Machine Systems. Presently he is the dean of education of the Faculty mechanical Engineering and Marine Engineering. He was involved in the design of this course right from the beginning and he is responsible for the overall process.

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

Research Skills in a Mechanical Engineering Curriculum Introduction

All teaching and learning in a university is rooted in research1. On the one hand that is so, because learning to become a researcher is a core objective of University training. However, there are also pedagogic arguments. The understanding of scientific method helps the students to develop a generic approach to problem situations. Students who are exposed to research during their graduate years will be encouraged to develop a questioning and inquiring mind and will be less likely to accept uncritically and passively the "truth" as propounded and handed down in the lecture books and by the professional expert2. Several publications on undergraduate research in technology education suggest that research enhances student learning, increases retention, increases enrolment, stimulates critical thinking and directs the students towards a richer innovative culture3;4;5.

In most European engineering curricula, however, learning how to conduct research is reserved for the more advanced students. In the Bologna declaration the European countries agreed to implement a Bachelor-Master structure (3+2 years) as a unifying structure for higher education in Europe. During the first three years of the Bachelor program students focus on fundamental knowledge and basic skills. Students with a bachelor degree can opt for a variety of Master programmes inside or outside their own institution. Usually, the Master programmes are closely linked to a research group. As a consequence, most students get the first opportunity to familiarize themselves with scientific research during the Masters phase6.

In the Netherlands, the introduction of the Bachelor-Master structure did not result in extensive curriculum change. The typical engineering curriculum consisted of 5-year programmes, with intermediate exams after one year and at the end of the third year. Accommodating to the Bologna criteria basically came down to an upgrade of the status of the third year examination. At the Faculty of Mechanical, Marine and Materials Engineering (3ME) of Delft University of Technology it was decided the training of research skills should be part of the bachelor program. Since over a decade, the last course before the third year examination takes the shape of a research project. In the present curriculum this project is labelled the “Bachelor Project”. This paper presents an outline of this course based on experiences of the last ten years.

Outline of the bachelor project

There are some marked differences between engineering and research. The primary purpose of research is to explain the phenomena we observe in the world. Engineering aims to exercise control over those phenomena and to change the world through innovative technology. Still, university trained engineers need to understand scientific methods in order to produce effective designs7. The learning goals of the BSc research project are: to stimulate an engineering research attitude and to master basic skills to perform some (small scale) research. The basis format of the course is that of a project where the students are responsible for planning their own research. A team of staff members supports their efforts, including two staff members from the faculty of Technology Policy and Management (TPM) who provide expertise on research methodology.

During a semester small groups of students (2-4) have to work on a research assignment. At the start of the project the students have to indicate their preference for the available

De Graaff, E., & Thijs, W., & Wieringa, P. (2008, June), Research Skills In A Mechanical Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3609

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