The author has taught a senior technical elective course on Internal Combustion Engines for many years. This course includes a major design project to be performed by the students. The project is very open-ended, allowing the students to explore particular aspects of IC Engine design that they find of interest. For most of the course offerings, students were assigned, essentially, to design “something related to an IC engine”. As will be discussed in the paper, while allowing for a very open-ended project, some students struggled with the lack of direction in this assignment and others produced designs that were impractical or unrealistic.
To provide the students with more direction as well as to help develop the exploratory and entrepreneurship skills of the students, the project assignment was modified. In the modified project assignment, student teams were asked to choose an engine that exists, identify a component of that engine, propose reasons for why the engine component was designed in such a manner, and then to redesign the component to increase the value of the engine. Ways to increase the value include lowering costs, improving performance, and opening new markets for the engine. This format incorporates aspects of problem-based learning into the course. While some students flourished under this new format, others struggled with various aspects in unexpected ways, and several groups were not particularly innovative in their projects.
In this paper, the two project assignments will be discussed in detail, and the authors’ observations of student reaction and performance on the two types of projects will be reported. Suggestions will also be made on modifying the project further in the future so that students may gain more from the design experience.
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