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Using The “Wow” Factor To Actively Engage Engineering Students

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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

Off the Beaten Path

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1366.1 - 13.1366.9

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Paper Authors

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Gerald Sullivan Virginia Military Institute

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Jon-Michael Hardin Virginia Military Institute

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

Using the “Wow” Factor to Actively Engage Engineering Students


It is a widely recognized trend today that students spend less and less time on their studies. Surveys of American college students document this reduction in study time and many educators assert that the average student currently spends far less time studying than is optimal for the assimilation of engineering concepts. This is especially true at a military academy, where highly structured time schedules scatters study time through out the day, and where students face all of the same hi-tech distractions as their civilian counterparts. To compete for time in this new study-scape, the study of engineering concepts must be re-cast into exercises that entice students with interesting and even entertaining results. In this paper we describe several projects that have been incorporated into the ME curriculum at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) to keep students engaged in their studies and improve the acquisition of engineering concepts as well as design skills. In this paper the authors examine case-study projects used at VMI and, based on their experiences with these projects, conclude with a set of key characteristics that course projects should have to succeed as educational instruments.


Engineering students today are part of a world in which the technology of “being connected” has entered every facet of their lives. Text messaging, the internet, wireless laptop computers, MySpace, YouTube, and video games are all forms of entertainment that may be accessed any where at any time, even during class lectures. Large amounts of time which might be used for study are now consumed in these virtual environments2. In a survey of Penn State students it was shown that on average, students spent 4 hours a week on You Tube1, a distraction which did not exist 10 years ago. The theme of the day seems to be, keep things short, provide immediate feedback, or your message will be ignored. Needless to say engineering educators have found it challenging to operate in this environment. Any material that involves lengthy derivation, or depends on several layers of theory or analysis, is subject to filtering by students. Assignments that require contemplation or self study to complete are often labeled as “unfair” by students who increasingly seek out rote solutions to engineering problems. While educators recommend any where from 25 to 35 hrs of study per week in engineering4, 3, surveys indicate that students spend only 10-15 hrs a week actually studying3. At a military academy this problem is compounded since the structured environment that mixes academic, athletic and military training every day, results in the fracturing of usable time chunks for study during a cadet’s work day. During the evening, cadets often take part in extracurricular activities or spend time socializing so that their actual study time does not typically begin until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. In a survey of incoming freshmen, most students had only 2-3 hours spread out over the day in which to study, and even that is an optimistic estimate given that many students report that they may “take a study break to play a game or send email”. In many courses that engineers take, concepts are highly

Sullivan, G., & Hardin, J. (2008, June), Using The “Wow” Factor To Actively Engage Engineering Students Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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