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The Creation Of An Experiential Engineering Library

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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

TIME 4: Pedagogy

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.1243.1 - 9.1243.12

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Paper Authors

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Mohamed Gad-el-hak

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Judy Richardson

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John Speich

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James McLeskey

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

Session 2566

The Creation of an Experiential Engineering Library James T. McLeskey, Jr., John E. Speich, Judy S. Richardson, and Mohamed Gad-el-Hak Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23284, USA

In preparation for solving twenty-first century problems, today's engineering students need twenty-first century examples. These students also express a need for hands-on activities to help them understand the theories they learn in class. Satisfying these criteria while ensuring mastery of the fundamentals is becoming an increasingly greater challenge given the time constraints of the typical mechanical engineering curriculum. In order to meet this challenge, the VCU Mechanical Engineering Department has begun development of an NSF-sponsored “Experiential Engineering Library” that will provide an easily accessible environment for hands-on learning experiences beyond the traditional Mechanical Engineering curriculum. The library will foster critical thinking by encouraging students to apply fundamental mechanical engineering principles to interdisciplinary research in emerging fields such as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), bioengineering, and nanotechnology. The present article describes the library concept, elaborates on its contents, and describes its impact on student interest and performance in a pilot course: Energy Conversion Systems.


The envisioned Experiential Engineering Library will be analogous to a traditional library. It will ultimately contain a large number of experiments and computer simulations either "on reserve" or available to be "checked out" by the students. At the instructor's discretion, hands-on problems can be assigned as a complement to, or in lieu of, paper and pencil homework. The learning modules can also be used independently by students seeking to improve their understanding through manipulation and visualization. Additional activities will provide enrichment opportunities for both undergraduate and visiting secondary school students. The flexibility and integration of the experiments in the library make it superior to laboratories used in traditional engineering courses.

Many of the examples currently used in Engineering curricula seem better suited to the "Greatest Generation" than to the students in school today. While some of these examples are still educationally sound, twenty-first century students need twenty-first century examples. Our experiments are intended to promote learning through guided inquiry. There is a constant battle in educational circles between traditional explicit instruction where students are told what they need to know and then expected to know it and discovery learning where students are given a few parameters and then given the chance to “play” and figure out the way things work. The former seems more expedient and most engineering faculty seem more comfortable with this method. It is relatively easy to grade objectively (the answer is either right or wrong) and is well-suited for preparing students for standardized tests. The latter reflects constructivist

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

Gad-el-hak, M., & Richardson, J., & Speich, J., & McLeskey, J. (2004, June), The Creation Of An Experiential Engineering Library Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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