Implementation of a Modular Hands-On Learning Pedagogy: Student Attitudes in a Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer Course

By Burgher, J. K.; Finkel, D. et al. | Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research, October-December 2015 | Go to article overview

Implementation of a Modular Hands-On Learning Pedagogy: Student Attitudes in a Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer Course


Burgher, J. K., Finkel, D., Adesope, O. O., Van Wie, B. J., Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research


1 Introduction

1.1 Background

For the past several decades, lecture has been a cornerstone of quality education and an integral part of teaching pedagogy. However, in recent years the engineering community has found its graduates need more than technical skills to successfully serve the needs of their employers and greater society. Demand for increased professional skills including teamwork and communication, broader knowledge of ethics and economics, and the ability to work with colleagues from varying backgrounds has been the resounding message from industry. Additionally, when students receive lecture as a teaching pedagogy, they often fail to retain concepts long-term and do not build integrated models of the engineering concepts (Abdul et al., 2011; Burgher, Thiessen, & Van Wie, 2013; Educating the engineer of 2020; Adapting engineering education to the new century, 2005).

To meet these demands, academics must be especially cognizant of their teaching pedagogies and the amount of content knowledge students retain long-term. Several approaches have been taken to cultivate professional communication and teamwork skills, from demonstration-mode pedagogies to flipped classes, and classes where individual team members are responsible for leading interactive discussions while following a guided inquiry worksheet (Fulton, 2012). This spectrum consists of active learning strategies, with variations of collaborative or cooperative learning included in the structure (Prince, 2004). Hands-on components can encompass modules or representations, some of which offer virtual engagement with the material and others that consist of 3D equipment like circuit boards or other engineering materials made usable for students (Jones & Issroff, 2005; Jones, Kehle, & Bray, 2004). Studies that investigate the effectiveness of different pedagogies have been summarized by Bligh, who reports lectures are not meant to promote thought or change student attitudes regarding a particular subject. Assessing the literature on student attitudes, he found lectures are less effective 47% of the time, no change exists 41% of the time, and lecture is more effective at changing student attitudes than the aforementioned pedagogies just 11% of the time (Bligh, 2000). Thus, if the goal of a course is to promote thought, change attitudes, or develop skills, lecture is not the pedagogy to use; Bligh notes lectures are effective to communicate information only.

Exploring other studies can offer insight into effective pedagogies that document positive student attitudes. Yadav used a case study implementation in mechanical engineering to determine the attitudes and conceptual changes students experienced with the implementation over traditional lecture. While he did not show statistically significant results between traditional lecture and the case study implementation, student attitudes towards the case study were positive because it helped them better engage with their coursework and brought realism into the classroom (Yadav, Shaver, & Meckl, 2010).

Clark, DiBiasio and Dixon (1998) implemented active learning and group projects in the sophomore year of the chemical engineering curriculum (called spiral curriculum) aimed at increasing teamwork and professional skills. The study showed immediate gains by students participating in the spiral curriculum on both teamwork skills and overall understanding of engineering concepts. Additionally, students that experienced the curriculum starting in the sophomore year performed better in junior and senior level chemical engineering courses (Clark et al., 1998). Lee and colleagues used an implementation that includes a computer simulator designed to connect students with a more realistic engineering experience, by extending an engineer's work and laboratory to increase student motivation that allows students to better visualize processes, and provides an interactive learning environment. …

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