2019 FYEE Conference

Inquiry-based Learning for First-Year Engineering Students

Presented at T2A: GIFTS - Session A

Inquiry-based Learning
First-Year Engineering Students
Tracey Carbonetto
The Pennsylvania State University
Engineering instructors are challenged in determining whether their students can understand, apply and extrapolate the content presented in the classroom. Traditional summative assessments do not always indicate the level of student engagement necessary for success. The level of engagement required for an engineering student in one course can depend on the background knowledge gained in prior courses. Not only do the students need to recall previous concepts but must be able to scaffold these in application for new material.
Instructors skilled in questioning can increase the level of student engagement during lectures which results in improved outcomes. This technique has limits in that the instructor controls student learning by asking the relevant questions, including those that tap into students’ prior knowledge.
Utilizing inquiry-based learning in an engineering classroom, especially introductory courses, can be challenging for the instructor. These inexperienced students simply do not know what to ask. This practice will establish a framework for the instructor that when utilized will allow students to develop and generate answers to questions, thus leading to student learning. An extensive list of evaluated websites representing industry-specific organizations, support services and professional societies is provided to the students. Instructors develop inquiry-based assignments while navigating websites. Websites that represent potential employers for first-year engineering students provide insight into an early career engineer’s role within the company. Students can be assigned a case study posted on the site. A first-hand description of a problem that cross-functional teams including engineers demonstrates to a student how these large-scale problems are broken down and eventually solved. Students can tour through posted specifications and information to understand the resources utilized in the solution. An instructor may want to assign a white paper posted on the site and aske the students how the findings in the paper apply to a real-world application. The professional learning communities blogging on the site allow students to learn how engineers teach and learn from each other, a skill they may want to grow even as students. An example of an inquiry-based introduction to engineering course is developed from the Siemens website (https://w3.siemens.com/mcms/mc-solutions/en/mechanical-engineering/crane-solutions/Pages/crane-solutions.aspx) prompts the students to research a solution to decrease port time for container ships by decreasing unloading and loading time. Students will investigate the facets of a marine port terminal and come up with an integrated solution by researching this website. Students would be encouraged to read any case study or solution posted as well as any support videos and information. Students will ultimately learn some of the concepts and terminology associated with marine, mechanical and industrial engineering possibly validating a decision to pursue a specific discipline. Ji-Wei Wu,
Judy C. R. Tseng, & Gwo-Jen Hwang. (2015). Development of an Inquiry-Based Learning Support System Based on an Intelligent Knowledge Exploration Approach. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 18(3), 282-300.

  1. Mrs. Tracey Carbonetto Pennsylvania State University, Allentown [biography]
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