Implementing Open-Ended Hands-on Design Projects throughout the Mechanical Engineering Curriculum
Engineers engage in design activities on a daily basis and thus engineering design has been considered one of the most important topics in engineering education and one of the most important stills that engineering students should possess when they graduate. Most first-year introduction to engineering courses now emphasize on the engineering design process and it has been considered best practices for introduction to engineering classes to contain “hands-on”, team based design projects[1-5]. Benefits of such hands-on design projects implemented in the freshman year include, increased retention, student motivation, academic performance, etc. After the freshman year, most engineering students rarely have opportunities to engage in hands-on design projects until their senior year when the capstone design projects are implemented, where students apply their acquired knowledge to an open-ended problem. Within the Mechanical Engineering curriculum, some sophomore and junior level courses contain hands-on labs and others incorporate design projects. However, usually the hands-on labs are not design based and the design projects are not hands-on in nature. Even though a few attempts have been made by a few authors in the past to implement hands-on design projects in sophomore and junior level mechanical engineering courses, for example, Al Hamidi, et al., discussed such efforts in the Mechanical Measurements course at Texas A&M University at Qatar , there has not been a consistent effort to provide opportunities for students to tackle open-ended hands-on design problems throughout the mechanical engineering curriculum.
At [institution], three open-ended hands-on design projects, one in each of the three mechanical engineering courses taught during the Spring 2015 semester have been implemented: a National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges design project in FSE100 Introduction to Engineering; a truss bridge design project in MAE213 Solid Mechanics; a manual toy design project in MAE341 Mechanism Analysis and Design. The goal was to provide students with hands-on design experiences throughout the mechanical engineering curriculum. In this paper, the implementation of these hands-on design projects will be described. Students’ performances in these design projects will also be presented. Student perceptions of these hands-on design projects have been obtained through a survey and results will be discussed. Overall students felt very positive about these open-ended hands-on design projects and they agreed that there has been a lack of hands-on design experiences in the curriculum, which would be invaluable to better prepare them for the job market. Students who participated in these design projects mastered the topics involved better than those who did not. Challenges of implementing these projects continuously for a long term, such as, budget, logistics, course workload, will be addressed and ways to run these projects in a sustainable way in the long run will be suggested.
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