This paper presents the successful outcomes of a three-year long curriculum development and implementation undertaken by the team of engineering professors and student veterans at the University of North Carolina. This paper covers on the development of the class, the topics chosen and the relevance of those topics as well as the assessment and long-term impact.
Background. To support an ongoing veteran recruitment and retention program, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Science Department developed an elective undergraduate course (ENGR 3999). This course was designed to use imagery and hands on, military based research laboratory experiences to engage veteran engineering students. The class is available to all engineering students, but predominately attended by Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Technology students.
Methods. The evaluation team conducted an extensive mixed methods study that included both quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative part of the evaluation measured student learning outcomes and other psychological constructs such as student motivation and career interest and aspiration. The qualitative data were collected from all key stakeholders involved in the class (e.g., faculty, student veteran TAs) as well as the students enrolled in the class. Based on the qualitative data, the evaluation team examined exactly how student made sense of the course contents and structures, and identified key features of the class that contributed to its successful learning outcomes.
Results. Three-year evaluation data consistently showed a statistically significant difference between the pre and post measures of student learning outcomes as well as on other psychological measures (e.g., motivation, interest). Students gained a significant knowledge base while developing a higher level of motivation and sense of competency. Qualitative data indicated that the overall curriculum integration that focused on direct hands-on application and research tools served as a fertile ground for student meaningful academic engagement and increased their interest and motivation. The course was structured in such a way that a class lecture was followed by one to three days of lab exercises which helped students to reinforce and apply the content of the proceeding lecture to real-world situations. Furthermore, military members (reservists and veterans) were actively recruited into the class; all of the teaching assistants (TA) were also veterans who effectively bring real world military experience to the topics. The success of the course as evidenced on multiple outcome measures are well-aligned to the fundamental premises of Constructivist Learning Theory and Integrated Curriculum Design, which underscore the dialectic relationships across knowledge/contents, instructors, and learners.
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