This complete evidence-based practice paper is focused on the initiation, development, and execution of the second component of a two-course sequence for first-year engineering students at a large, public university in the southeastern U.S. This sequence was developed with an engineering school-wide committee, and represents a thorough restructuring of the school’s first-year introduction to engineering program. The restructuring was designed to support the J.B. Speed School of Engineering’s effort to have a common first year throughout all engineering majors. The new course sequence provides students a more applicable and realistic understanding of the engineering experience. The second component of this sequence (Engineering Methods, Tools, & Practice II) exclusively takes place in the Engineering Garage (EG), a 15,000 ft2 makerspace that provides the course with individual classrooms in addition to laboratory-analogous stations that further augments course delivery. Key logistical challenges, such as student safety and space accommodations, that needed to be overcome for full course realization are discussed.
Each academic year, more than 500 first-year engineering students are exposed to this interactive course, which introduces students to fundamental engineering skills – including teamwork, design, project management, technical writing, critical thinking, programming, communication (including written, oral, and graphical), and an introduction to engineering research. The course includes extensive introductory design pedagogy; including two individual design challenges during the semester, and culminating in a team-based Cornerstone project that all students present at the end of the semester. For conveying key instructional topics to the students, a few select classes are held in the EG classroom(s), while additional instruction is delivered online via supplementary, instructor-created videos. The majority of the course meetings days occur in the EG makerspace and these meetings are activity-based.
Course instruction and activities are designed to methodically expose students to the aforementioned skills, as well as other topics that pertain to engineering fundamentals. Many of the course deliverables have been designed to be dual-purpose, in that they build student understanding of essential engineering skills while also assisting progression towards Cornerstone project completion. The vast majority of in-class activities are team-based and teams are created very early in the semester to be diverse in both background and discipline. Key features of the course include various student-utilized hand tools, various software, Arduino-based circuitry, 3D printers, and hardware-based Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs).
This course has quickly become high-profile amongst students, faculty, and metropolitan industry alike. End-of-semester surveys suggest strong, positive student feedback pertaining to teamwork development, as well as improvements upon student perceptions of critical thinking significance. Other institutional entities such as the entrepreneurship school have partnered with course administrators to educate students on topics synergistic with engineering. New course features have been added with the help of local industries. Future work includes adding new Cornerstone projects with the help and cooperation of local industry.
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