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Teaching Mechanics in Another Country – Reflections on a Professorenaustausch

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Curriculum and Instruction in Engineering Mechanics

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Brian P. Self California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Brian Self obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Engineering Mechanics from Virginia Tech, and his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from the University of Utah. He worked in the Air Force Research Laboratories before teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy for seven years. Brian has taught in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo since 2006. During the 2011-2012 academic year he participated in a professor exchange, teaching at the Munich University of Applied Sciences, and he did a second exchange at the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences in the Fall of 2017. His engineering education interests include collaborating on the Dynamics Concept Inventory, developing model-eliciting activities in mechanical engineering courses, inquiry-based learning in mechanics, and design projects to help promote adapted physical activities. Other professional interests include aviation physiology and biomechanics.

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Peter Michael Becker

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In an ever-expanding global economy, it has been increasingly important for engineering students to pursue some type of international experience. There has been a great deal of research on the benefits of having students participate in a study-abroad program. Much less has been reported, however, on the benefits of having faculty participate an international exchange. We will discuss a professor exchange, or Professorenaustausch, between two polytechnic universities, one in California and one in Karlsruhe, Germany, between two mechanics professors.

To understand the challenges of setting up such an exchange, we will first provide some institutional and cultural context on the two university settings. Typical teaching philosophies and overall curricula will be discussed, and then we will focus on our primary course topic: dynamics. One primary difference is the German institution’s use of d’Alembert’s Principle in solving kinetics problems, and another involves their use of professor-written scriptums rather than textbooks. The German system places much more responsibility on the student to learn the material – in many courses there is on high-stakes ninety-minute exam that is used to assign the entire grade. Students are provided with a number of example problems and old exams, and are expected to learn the material how they see fit. This is in stark contrast to the California system that assigns multiple homeworks, quizzes, projects, and tests each term.

We will share instructor perspectives on differences and similarities teaching mechanics at the two universities, as well as our perceptions of the student populations. Additionally, we will collect student survey data to examine their thoughts on professor exchanges and the differences between instructors from the two institutions. These insights, along with our own reflections, will be use to formulate a “best practices” list to help other instructors navigate developing exchange programs of their own. Finally, we will share some of the logistical issues of an exchange program. Performing a house exchange is one of the easiest ways to organize the swap, and we also agreed to swap automobiles and bicycles. Because it was an exchange agreement established at the highest levels of each institution, we were paid by our respective institutions and the term did not count as a sabbatical. The exchange was a highly constructive experience for both professors, both academically as well as culturally. Such programs can be used to enhance global awareness for students, to exchange interesting pedagogical practices, and to provide personal and professional growth for mechanics faculty members.

Note to Program Chair: although this could be presented in the International Division, we will focus a bit more on the Mechanics instruction. In addition, we hope to contact a different audience – members of the Intl Division will already be familiar with many of the exchange portions of the paper.

Self, B. P., & Becker, P. M. (2018, June), Teaching Mechanics in Another Country – Reflections on a Professorenaustausch Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31058

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