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Work in Progress: Implementing Project-based Learning Into Sophomore Mechanics Course

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

The 'Strengths' of Mechanics

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Casey Daniel Kidd Louisiana Tech University Orcid 16x16

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Casey Kidd is a PhD student and graduate assistant in the College of Engineering at Louisiana Tech University. His focus is Engineering Education, with an emphasis on project-based learning. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Louisiana Tech in 2004. Since then, he has worked as a stress analyst for an oil and gas contractor in Houston, TX, and as a mechanical design engineering for a NASA contractor at the Johnson Space Center. He then spent several years at home, raising his two children. Upon returning to the Ruston area, he rejoined Louisiana Tech University as a graduate student to continue his studies and earn a PhD. As a graduate assistant with the College of Engineering and Science, he is using his design background to design new project kits for the freshmen and sophomore level engineering courses.

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Ethan Clark Hilton Louisiana Tech University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Ethan Hilton is an assistant professor at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA, where he has been since September 2019. He received his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from Louisiana Tech and his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology with a focus in Engineering Design Methodology and Engineering Education.

As a member of the Integrated STEM Education Research Center (ISERC) at LaTech, Ethan's primary research area is engineering design education with a focus on developing prototyping skills through both class-based projects and extra-curricular clubs, competitions, and activities. This includes a focus on hand-drawn sketches and how they are used as tools for generating ideas and visual communication, especially when it involves the skill to generate quick and realistic sketches of an object or idea. He has also conducted research on the impact involvement in academic makerspaces has on students in engineering programs.

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Through the course of the freshmen and sophomore engineering series, the goal of the engineering curriculum is to lay the groundwork for the remainder of the students’ training. Through this coursework they are prepared for more advance upper-level courses, culminating in the senior capstone project. This gives them the opportunity to use all the resources provided to them up to this point. Traditionally, the curriculum primarily consists of lecture-based courses, with some hands-on work, mostly through demonstration. In recent years, the curriculum has started using more project-based courses. In these updated courses, the theory covered via lecture is merged with hands-on project work. This integrated approach is designed to not only give the students a foundation of the course theory, but to expand on that and give them practical, hands-on applications of that theory. Additionally, it gives the opportunity to learn skills in design, manufacturing, electronics, controls, and prototyping. Not only does this prepare them better for the capstone design project, it provides them with the crucial skills in communication and problem-solving that help better prepare them for employment after graduation. This study focuses on the sophomore-level statics and mechanics of materials course. Traditionally, this course was mainly taught using a problem-based pedagogy with the addition of a few basic labs and one project in the last few weeks of the course. In the last few years, some sections of this course used a team-based project where the students worked in small groups to systematically assemble and use a tensile testing device. With the current concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was redesigned as a linear actuator. This modification results in a slightly simpler assembly and allows students to work individually so that social-distancing policies can be followed more easily, and allows students to work remotely if necessary. Like the previous project, this new design uses a frame of extruded aluminum but scaled down to allow for individual projects. Building on their experience with the microcontroller platform gained from freshman-level courses, this new project uses a stepper motor and a belt and pulley system to convert the rotational motion of the motor into a linear motion of a carriage assembly. The students initially build and test their system using a small, bar-type load cell. The final assignment asks the students to combine the mechanics of materials theory from the course with their final project assembly to test mechanical properties of a material of their choice. This study uses a comparison between pre-course and post-course surveys to test the effectiveness of the updated project, and project-based learning in general, on the students’ engineering self-efficacy. The results are compared with similar surveys given to control groups of class sections teaching the same course material in a more traditional problem-based format.

Kidd, C. D., & Hilton, E. C. (2021, July), Work in Progress: Implementing Project-based Learning Into Sophomore Mechanics Course Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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