July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
This evidence-based practice paper will describe the transformation of the hands-on learning experience for a freshman Mechanical Engineering design course at XX University. The changes were designed to cope with the challenges raised by the remote learning environment during the COVID-19 pandemic. The standard in-person version of the course includes lectures taught in traditional lecture halls, and labs, which are performed in a Design Studio filled with a variety of fabrication equipment. As the first engineering design course in the curriculum, it provides important learning experiences for the first-year mechanical engineering students. The course teaches several critical concepts, such as basic engineering graphics and CAD skills, engineering design principles, basic machine design, prototyping skills, as well as teamwork and communication skills. These learning objectives were taught in lectures but, more importantly, they were enhanced through labs, where students could complete two hands-on projects. Project #1 was a pre-defined individual project, and project #2 was an open-ended team-based project, designed to enable creativity. As project #2 was team-based, it served to promote connections among first-year students and helped them build an inclusive community. Further, the hands-on learning experience provided an opportunity for students to gain a better understanding of mechanical engineering and to build a stronger interest in their declared major.
The remote teaching setting has created a significant obstacle to providing the students with a similar hands-on learning experience required to meet the course learning objectives and goals mentioned above. The lack of access to hardware materials and laboratory equipment has significantly reduced the feasibility of implementing hands-on course projects. Although students can still complete parts of the design process, including conceptual design generation and Computer-Aided-Design modeling, the lack of hands-on prototyping, analysis, and design iteration has hindered students’ mastery of important concepts usually learned through project application. Lastly, the absence of an engaging course project may also reduce students’ motivation and interest in the subject matter.
To address these issues, a transformation of the hands-on learning component of the course was planned and implemented. One element of the transformation was to create hardware kits that allow students to work at home on projects similar to the in-person version of the course, and enable them to achieve the same learning objectives. One challenge was to ensure that the kit contained all necessary tools and materials needed for fabricating parts without access to lab equipment, such as laser cutters or 3D printers. Another element of the transformation was to modify the structure of both projects, in order to make the hands-on activities feasible and compatible with the hardware kits developed, while also preserving the learning objectives and course goals. Risks, such as safety, were considered and mitigated during the development of the hardware kits and project structure.
In this paper, we will use students’ work, survey feedback, course evaluations, and focus group interview data to assess the success of the hands-on learning experience transformation for remote learning. We will compare data from three sources: (i) data from terms when the course was taught in the regular in-person setting, where the students have access to lab materials and equipment, (ii) previous term when the course was delivered remotely but without the new hardware kits, and (iii) data from the current remote term with the newly developed hardware kits. We will evaluate students’ project design deliverables to assess the effectiveness of achieving course learning objectives using the hardware kit. We will also investigate how the modified hands-on learning experiences have impacted students' perception on their first-year engineering experience, including any changes in their level of interest in engineering and in their sense of belonging in the mechanical engineering community. Although the transformation described in this paper was motivated by the remote teaching forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, it can also be used for design courses that are intended to be online.
Qi, H., & Sandoval, C. L., & Liu, H., & Kohanfars, M. R., & Lan, E. I., & Tharin, C. H., & Morimoto, T. K. (2021, July), Transforming the Hands-on Learning Experience in a First-year Engineering Design Class to a Remote-learning Environment Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37933
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