Innovations in Engineering Curriculum and Teaching: A Research-Based Study
Type of Degreethesis
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Universities have progressively improved in regards to the usage of technology in teaching-learning methodologies. Tools like videoconferences, chats and blogs, podcasting, webcasting and webinars, video streaming, and networked educational videos have rapidly appeared. Research has shown that videos are a helpful tool to engage students with different learning styles beyond the textbook and traditional lecture. They can also increase the students’ enthusiasm about the concepts presented and thereby increase information retention. The focus is to engage students in intellectual work that facilitates the assimilation of knowledge in a disciplined manner that will have value beyond school. Many students who take the introduction to engineering classes are freshmen and need help in learning engineering concepts. This study discusses the development, implementation, and evaluation of a video- and game-based instructional tool called a concept tutor. These concept tutors focus on one concept at a time, and they can be used as supplemental material to a lecture. These tutors provide additional help to students in explaining the concepts taught in class to reinforce their learning. The purpose of concept tutors is to increase the undergraduate students’ enthusiasm and attention toward the concepts taught using this instructional methodology. The concept tutors will engage the students in a learning process meant to improve retention rate. The concept tutor consists of three phases. The first phase is definition and real-world applications of the concept. The second phase includes a step-by-step presentation of the concept in a general format that explains the concept through a targeted problem. The concept tutor in this phase is split into topic videos. The third phase consists of assessments to measure the students’ understanding of the material presented. After viewing each video, the students are required to answer a set of questions that test the concepts they learned. The questions after each topic are in a format that allows the students to choose the testing environment. They can choose either a regular multiple-choice assessment or a game-based assessment. Two concept tutors were built to introduce Simulink in MATLAB (by MathWorks) to students as a graphical programming tool for controlling a LEGO Mindstorms NXT Robot. These concept tutors were developed to allow a self-paced review of Simulink GUI and programming logic concepts. The third concept tutor developed addresses the topic of units, conversions, and dimensions. This tutor is used to stress the importance of using proper units in engineering as well as reinforce the need and method of converting a physical quantity from one unit to another. Quantitative and qualitative results show that students find such materials useful; furthermore, the students preferred this method to complement a lecture. The development methodology of the tutor and evaluation results are reported in this study. The objective of the conventional undergraduate engineering curriculum is to equip students with the college level mathematics and basic sciences in their freshman year and then introduce core engineering courses pertaining to the students’ majors. Srivastava et al. explain the drawbacks of the conventional engineering curriculum. According to this study, students find difficulty in engaging themselves with the materials provided. The material presented to the students is not revisited in another relevant course. For effective learning, the basic concept has to be revisited repeatedly, which means students have a lower knowledge retention rate. Further, the conventional curriculum does not connect one course to another as the students’ progress through their program. The “spiral curriculum” revisits a concept several times and teaches more complex concepts as the students’ progress through the curriculum. The spiral curriculum also integrates concepts across courses during the program. Hence the spiral curriculum has to impart skills on to the students at each level of the curriculum. The term “skills” refers to the abilities the students should possess after completion of each course in spiral curriculum. These abilities are set by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This study concentrates on the skills under the cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy namely knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Two undergraduate level ecological engineering courses, designed within a spiral curriculum, are evaluated for their role in potentially developing the required skills in the students. The courses are evaluated by comparing the students’ final exam scores to the expected or ideal scores set by the instructors of those courses using the ABET criteria. Finally a conclusion is made for each of the courses from the difference between the ideal scores and the actual scores of the students. The instructional and assessment approaches in these courses would be modified to minimize this difference.