This complete evidence-based paper summarizes work performed to modify and improve AE 100, an introductory course in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. This project was motivated by the desire to redesign the class around project-based learning, which research has shown improves learning outcomes for students. Additional changes were identified to improve education in engineering presentation and technical writing skills. This freshmen-level course has been offered for more than a decade, although it has traditionally been used to introduce only a few specific concepts in aerospace engineering. Previously, freshmen were made to choose between two versions of this course, one focused on aeronautical engineering and the other on astronautical engineering. This project aimed to unite the two subjects and introduce a goal-oriented design project for each subject: a model rocket and a hand-thrown glider. Both projects featured a final report designed to emphasize different communication skills. The model rocket project required students to submit a narrated video presentation that included video of their rocket’s flight, analysis of their trajectory, and various images and videos collected during the design and construction phases of the project. For the glider project, the student teams were required to submit a written technical report detailing design decisions, construction, and flight performance. Prior to the changes, students wrote similar written reports which the authors deemed generally unimpressive, so the structure of the class was changed to address this deficiency. Students now submit two individual written assignments prior to the final technical report, which are returned with inline feedback from the instructor. Additionally, students are assigned to blind peer review reports from classmates. Evidence has been collected to compare similar final reports between offerings of the course, and evaluations show a drastic improvement in the quality of the final reports with these additional writing assignments and feedback as part of the course. Surveys are taken at the beginning and end of the semester to assess student perceptions of their skills in several areas. The results of these surveys are compiled and presented in this paper, and show broad improvement across a variety of subjects. The introduction of project-based learning with an emphasis on engineering communication skills in AE 100 has improved the experience of the students in the Aerospace Engineering Department at the University of Illinois.
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