Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

A Qualitative Evaluation of the Use of Multimedia Case Studies in an Introductory Engineering Course at Two Southeastern Universities

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

A Qualitative Evaluation of the Use of Multimedia Case Studies in an Introductory Engineering Course at Two Southeastern Universities

Article excerpt


Recent calls for change in engineering education address the knowledge and skills that today's engineers need in the workplace (Watson, 2009). The Committee on the Engineer of 2020 (National Academy of Engineering, 2005) has encouraged the use of case studies of engineering successes and failures in the undergraduate engineering curriculum. With a focus on better preparing engineers through introductory engineering courses, and with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), an interdisciplinary team of engineering faculty, business faculty, and educational researchers worked to improve the design and delivery of introductory engineering courses at two universities in the Southeastern United States. Multimedia case studies were used for the purposes of making the learning experience more appealing and costeffective. This paper addresses key qualitative findings from the culminating year of this three-year NSF-funded project to improve introductory engineering courses at two universities.

Engineering Instruction

Parallel to broad shifts across education generally (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000), the field of engineering education has undergone dramatic changes in terms of purpose and pedagogy. In the 19th century, the emphasis was on industrial skills. In the post-World War II era, the focus shifted to scientific and mathematics skills. Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, such skills as critical thinking, communications, and team work took primacy in engineering education (Brent & Felder, 2003). More recently, industry reports indicate engineering graduates lack skills in creative thinking, design, communication, and other professional skills (Kimber, Biggs, & Leung, 2004).

The identified needs for engineering graduates have spurred university engineering faculty to alter how engineering is taught, moving from a strictly theoretical lecture approach to a more hands-on approach (Brent & Felder, 2003). One NSF-funded model for engineering faculty development centered on modeling, discussing, and critiquing techniques, which encouraged faculty to incorporate more active learning exercises, more team work activities, and more study guides in their classes (Dee & Daly, 2009). Somerville et al. (2005) suggest that students need to be more flexible in their pursuit of learning in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and that universities should emphasize cross-disciplinary foundational skills, including teamwork and problem solving. Litzinger, Hadgraft, Lattuca, and Newstetter (2011) suggested that engineering education experiences need to provide opportunities for students to increase their knowledge of concepts and facilitate knowledge transfer of both technical and professional skills through real-world projects, yet current engineering education often does not achieve these objectives. In spite of widespread attempts to utilize new approaches, engineering as a field has been slow to adopt alternative pedagogies to the ubiquitous lecture method (Brent & Felder, 2003).

The 4P Model

The theoretical framework used in this study was the 4P model, which encompasses the concepts of presage, pedagogy, process, and product and extends the Biggs and Moore 3P model (Biggs & Moore, 1993; Nemanich, Banks & Vera, 2009). The presage component considers characteristics of learners that exist prior to the learning experience, such as age, gender, learning styles, behavioral tendencies, and race. The pedagogy aspect refers to the specific instructional methodologies used in the study. The process component centers on students'deep learning - "motivation to learn and understanding of causal relationships among concepts"(Nemanich, Banks, & Vera, 2009, p. 127). The fourth component addresses product or achievement in student learning outcomes, which is believed to be affected by the intersection of the presage component and the process component (Kember, Biggs, & Leung, 2004). …

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