Motivated by the need to address the broad spectrum of learning styles embraced by today’s engineering students, a desire to encourage active, peer-to-peer, and self-learning, and a goal of interacting with every student despite ever-expanding enrollments, the mechanics faculty at Purdue University have developed the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom (PMFC) -- a new approach to engineering mechanics education. This complete, yet evolving, course system seeks to combine the more successful elements of the traditional classroom, with new hybrid textbooks, extensive multimedia content, and web 2.0 interactive technologies to create linked physical and virtual learning environments that not only appeal to students, but markedly improve the students’ technical competency in foundational engineering technical areas. Though some elements of the PMFC have been in development for more than five years, the current amalgamation of educational tools has been implemented for only six semesters. This incarnation consists of four core elements: (i) Hybrid Textbooks/Lecture Notes – A key component of the PMFC experience is the hybrid textbook/lecture notes sets, dubbed “lecturebooks”. These hybrid texts are designed to concisely present the students with pertinent background information, highlight fundamental engineering principles and optimal problem solving techniques, and provide an extensive array of practical and relevant examples. The hybrid nature of the document stems from the notion that most factual information is provided in full, while brief and extended examples are provided with ample white space, allowing the student to actively work the problem, with the instructor’s assistance, within a lecture environment. (ii) Course Blog – The connective tissue of the PMFC experience is a highly-interactive course blog, which serves as a repository for course information and multimedia and, more importantly, a venue for peer-to-peer and student-to-instructor virtual interaction. (iii) Multimedia Content – Though blog-enabled peer-to-peer and student-to-instructor interactions lead to significant out-of-classroom learning, these features are buttressed in the PMFC by a wide array of multimedia content, designed specifically for self-paced factual delivery, and ultimately self-learning. The cornerstone of this multimedia content is the more than 400 instructor-produced videos, which highlight, in a step-by-step fashion, the problem solving approaches required for all of the course’s homework problems and lecture examples, and numerous internally-produced technical videos that relate various course topics to real-world events and engineering systems. (iv) Lecture – The most traditional component of the PMFC experience is the classroom lecture. Though lecture format and style can vary dramatically from instructor to instructor, the PMFC model encourages a strong emphasis on engineering fundamentals, highly-interactive and open-ended technical discussions, classroom demonstrations, and the inclusion of extended examples or case studies that parallel world events and/or technical situations that arise in students’ lives. Given this framework, the present work specifically seeks to describe the development and evolution of the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom and its constituent components. Complementing this will be a discussion of preliminary assessment, both formal and anecdotal in nature. The results of this assessment not only highlight the group-level efficacy of the approach (as captured through student failure and withdrawal metrics, amongst pertinent others), but also highlight improvements in student satisfaction and course perception. Finally, in light of their importance in the presence of sustainable curricular change, issues associated with faculty buy-in and material adoption will also be discussed.
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