Fluid mechanics is a major bottleneck in many mechanical engineering programs. "ME 311: Fluid Mechanics I," a course taken by third-year mechanical engineering and civil engineering students at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona), is characterized by high enrollment and high repeat rates. During 2007-2014, approximately one-third of ME 311 students received repeatable grades (D, F, or Withdrawal), with another third receiving C’s. In an effort to improve student performance in ME 311, the authors implemented a series of new pedagogical strategies during 2015-2016. The new strategies were introduced in stages and featured the use of McGraw-Hill Connect, an online assignment and assessment platform, as well as dedicating more class time for engaging activities. Faculty from the Department of Mechanical Engineering Department and Department of Psychology & Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona collaborated to measure student academic performance through the use of concept inventories, exam scores, and overall course grades, while student perceptions of the course were examined using surveys and focus groups. The concept inventories and surveys were administered at the beginning and end of the course to determine the extent to which students’ knowledge of the subject matter and opinions changed during a quarter. Connect was introduced in Fall 2015 and Winter 2016; each quarter, one experimental section (with Connect) and one control section (without Connect) were taught, with other aspects of the course remaining the same. For Fall 2015, scores on the concept inventory indicated that the experimental section appeared to learn more throughout the course, and the repeat rate was much lower (23.5% for the experimental section versus 38.9% for the control section). For Winter 2016, the experiment was repeated with a different instructor. The difference between the experimental and control sections’ performance on the concept inventory was not statistically significant, but the repeat rate was lower for the experimental section (26.7%) compared to the control section (38.7%). For Spring 2016, both sections were required to use Connect and the instructor experimented with a more engaging pedagogy. In the experimental section, class time was dedicated to discussing concepts and worked examples – as recommended by student focus groups in a prior quarter – with no derivations of equations. Instead, derivations were discussed in videos created by the authors that could be watched outside of class. In the control section, class time was used in a similar manner as previous quarters and included derivations. The experimental section performed better on exams and the repeat rate was much lower (20.0% for experimental versus 44.1% for control). For all three quarters, the attitudinal surveys indicate that students in the experimental sections felt more positively toward the course compared to the control sections, although the difference between the two sections varied by quarter. The results from this study suggest that the use of Connect and dedication of more class time to worked examples have the potential to positively impact student performance in fluid mechanics courses.
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