Title

Let’s Break Stuff! A refit of the mechanics sequence of courses to inspire student inquiry

Contributing USMA Research Unit(s)

Civil and Mechanical Engineering

Publication Date

6-24-2017

Publication Title

Proceedings of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Annual Conference

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Abstract

There is a growing consensus that our students need to build a different set of skills during their college experience than was necessary in decades past. In addition to technical knowledge, graduates of engineering programs must enter the workforce inspired and able to engage in design activities, creatively solving problems, learning on their own, and comfortably navigating the information-rich environment we live and work in. There is also a growing body of knowledge concerning how to most effectively teach modern students – highlighting the value of student-centered learning, active learning experiences, and effective integration of technology.

After an internal assessment, the Department of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the US Military Academy determined that the initial sequence of mechanics courses provided the technical content our students needed but required updating in some important ways. First, mechanics was being taught isolated from the broader design process. Secondly, there was no integration of computer programs to begin the education of our students on their effective use (and understanding their limitations). Finally, students were largely asked to demonstrate that they could repeat a calculation they had seen worked in class rather than creating or discovering their own solutions, failing to provide the time, space and inspirational structure necessary for students to apply their knowledge in a way that demonstrates a broader understanding.

For these reasons, the department conducted a radical overhaul of two courses: MC300 (Fundamentals of Engineering Mechanics and Design, which combines statics and introductory mechanics topics) and MC364 (Mechanics of Materials). The rethinking of these courses included many hands-on learning activities in place of instructor demonstrations, specifically designed to inspire the students to engage with acquiring the knowledge they need rather than waiting for it to be ladled into their brains. Many of these were designed to lead to student discovery of mechanics principles. The courses now also integrate computer aided design software to begin teaching students how to effectively use these powerful resources. Including CAD software was also intended to assist in the development of engineering judgment through assignments that required students to investigate the effect of changing parameters, allowing them to see the results in a visually rich computer environment.

This paper describes the assessment that led to the changes, provides an overview of the changes made, and reports initial assessment data related to the changes. Syllabi of the two courses are included along with explanations of hands-on learning activities and CAD implementation.

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