A Case For a Reform in Teaching Introductory, Fundamental Engineering Mechanics Courses

Freeman, Steven
Boylan-Ashraf, Peggy
Freeman, Steven
Shelley, Mack
Shelley, Mack
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Introductory, fundamental engineering mechanics (IFEM) courses, such as statics of engineering, mechanics of materials, dynamics, and mechanics of fluids, have far too long been focused on intense mathematical and theoretical concepts. Bold new methodologies that connect science to life using active learning pedagogies need to be emphasized more in engineering classrooms. This study investigated the role of a new paradigm in teaching IFEM courses and attempts to contribute to the current national conversation in engineering curriculum development of the need to change engineering education—from passive learning to active learning. Demographic characteristics in this study included a total of 4,937 students, of whom 4,282 (86.7%) are males and 655 (13.3%) are females, over a period of seven years, from 2006 to 2013. The students’ majors included aerospace engineering, agricultural engineering, civil engineering, construction engineering, industrial engineering, materials engineering, and mechanical engineering.

Results of the study, as tested using an independent samples t-test and validated using a nonparametric independent samples test and a general linear univariate model analysis, indicated that overwhelmingly there is a difference between classes taught passively using the teacher-centered pedagogy and classes taught actively using the student-centered pedagogy.

The principal focus of this work was to formulate a convincing argument using data accumulated over seven years that a new paradigm utilizing student-centered pedagogies in teaching IFEM courses should be more emphasized to move engineering curriculum towards a more active and student-centered state. After evaluating the effects of several variables on students’ academic success, the results may provide important information for both faculty and researchers and present a convincing argument to those faculty interested in a reform but hesitant to abandon conventional teaching practices. By promoting this new paradigm, the potential for improving understanding of engineering fundamentals on a larger scale may be realized.