Additive manufacturing (AM) is prevalent in academic, industrial, and layperson use for the design and creation of objects via joining materials together in a layer upon layer fashion. However, few universities have an undergraduate course dedicated to it. Thus, using NSF IUSE support [grant number redacted for review] from the Exploration and Design Tier of the Engaged Student Learning Track, this project has created and implemented such a course at three large universities: Texas Tech (a Carnegie high research productivity and Hispanic Serving Institution), Kansas State (a Carnegie high research productivity and land grant university) and California State, Northridge (the largest of all the California State campuses and highly ranked in serving underprivileged students). Our research team includes engineering professors and a sociologist trained in assessment and K-12 outreach to determine the effects of the course on the undergraduate and high school students. We are currently in year two of the three years of NSF support.
The course focuses on the fundamentals of the three families of prevailing AM processes: extrusion-based, powder-based, and liquid-based, as well as learning about practical solutions to additive manufacturing of common engineering materials including polymers, metals and alloys, ceramics, and composites. It has a lecture plus lab format, in that students learn the fundamentals in a classroom, but then apply and broaden their knowledge in lab projects and independent studies. Additionally, as outreach, we host field trips from local high schools during which the undergraduates give presentations about discrete AM skills, then lead the high school students through a lab project focused on those skills. This creates a pipeline of knowledge about AM for younger students as well as an opportunity for undergraduates to develop leadership and speaking skills while solidifying their knowledge. We are also in the process of uploading videos and lab projects to an online Google Classroom so that those with access to 3D printers in other areas can learn online for free. We are also self-publishing an accompanying textbook and lab manual.
Beyond the course itself, one of the innovations of our project is the assessment strategy. For both undergraduates and high school students, we have been able to collect content area knowledge both before and after the class, as well as information about their attitudes towards engineering and self-efficacy beliefs. This has been particularly illuminating in regards to subgroups like women and students of color.
Our research questions include: i) what is the knowledge growth about AM during this course? ii) does this differ by university? iii) does this differ by gender or race? iv) what are the best ways to make this course portable to other universities?
Preliminary results indicate a statistically significant improvement in knowledge for all students. This was particularly true for women, which may indicate the promise of AM courses in decreasing the female dropout rate in engineering. Attitudes towards engineering and self-efficacy perceptions also differed after the class, but in varying ways by demographic subgroups and university. This will be explored more in the paper.
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