This Complete Evidence-based Practice paper will focus on the design, implementation, and evaluation of a multidisciplinary introductory engineering course that integrates theory and hands-on practice around a theme of underwater robotics. The course is required for all students (including non-engineering majors) at a small liberal arts college and is the first engineering course for the majority of enrollees. The previous version of the course was a traditional lecture-based introduction to lumped element modeling of mechanical and electrical systems and modeling of signals using a Fourier analysis approach. The new version of the course covers most of the same technical content, although a Laplace transform approach has replaced the Fourier transform approach and a brief introduction to control theory has been added.
Based on best practices in engineering education, the course design and implementation team has moved from the lecture model to a model that includes active learning (flipped classroom) tutorials and hands-on practicums. Students watch videos created by the instructors before the first tutorial session of the week, then come to tutorial to take both individual and team quizzes (similar to Team-Based Learning practices) and work with their teams on a short problem that provides real-world context for the content covered in the videos. The second tutorial session of the week is dedicated to context-rich problem solving with significant interaction between the instructors and students. Following the two tutorial sessions each week, students take part in a 2.5-hour practicum session where they experience the content in a hands-on environment, with most practicums focused on an aspect of the underwater robot. For example, the robot is placed in a water tank with a buoyancy “spring” attached and a chirp signal is input to the thruster to obtain a Bode plot response of the robot’s position versus thruster input frequency.
Evaluation measures include a pre/post attitudinal survey regarding the usefulness of class content, intent to major in engineering, and understanding of the engineering profession and pre/post content tests from both the previous, lecture-based incarnation of the course, and the new version of the course. Results show significant increases in student learning, affective gains, perceived understanding of the field of engineering, and an erasure of a previous gender gap in course performance.
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