This complete evidence-based practice paper will describe two approaches implemented of a design-based introduction to engineering course: a discipline-specific and a generalized mechanical engineering approach. The Introduction to Engineering course is a three hour per week hands-on design class with the goal of providing students with the feeling of what engineering is like through engaging activities related to engineering and developing skills like teamwork, communication, and following a design process. There has been conflicting agreement on whether this type of class would excite, prepare, or retain more students if it were delivered as a discipline-specific versus as a universal cross-disciplinary version.
For this study, students were assessed with a Likert-based survey asking questions about how they felt the class prepared them or engaged them for a career in engineering and if they planned to remain in their program. The survey was given at the end of the semester they took their respective Introduction to Engineering course. Statistical p-values were calculated from the Likert scores with respect to the discipline area of the student, the instructor, the semester, and the demographics of the student class population. The course was delivered in one semester as a generalized mechanical-engineering focused design approach and then in a second semester as the three discipline-specific (civil, electrical, and mechanical) approaches. The course was co-taught by three instructors (from civil, electrical, and mechanical), and for the generalized mechanical approach all three instructors gave the same lectures, assignments, and in-class activities. In both semesters, the core of the course involved having students complete a group design process and individual written reports. In the generalized mechanical approach, students also have lectures and assignments related to learning Excel, SolidWorks, hands-on machine tools, and electrical wiring scenarios using Arduinos. In the civil-specific approach, for example, the students learned AutoCAD instead of SolidWorks, and performed activities and assignments such as building a truss, testing water quality, performing a traffic study, and attending a public planning commission meeting instead of using Arduinos. The students were unfortunately not notified during registration of which discipline-specific version they enrolled in, so all three sections in both semesters had a distribution of the student’s preferred programs.
The survey results after 1 semester of each delivery method (114 students completing the survey from both semesters) did not show any statistical difference between the discipline-specific and the generalized version of the course. The survey regardless of which approach was delivered did verify that 65% of the students felt it was engaging, 72% said it increased their interest in a career in engineering, and 84% stated they plan to continue in their respective program. The plan is to continue with the discipline-specific versions of the course for at least another year to gather additional statistical data. The survey is also intended to be sent out to the same students in their junior year to re-evaluate how they felt the introductory course engaged and prepared them for their remaining courses.
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