Enhancement of learning for engineering students through constructivist methods

Frawley, P. J. and Prendergast, N. (2014) Enhancement of learning for engineering students through constructivist methods. International Journal of Engineering Education, 30 (6). pp. 1425-1435. ISSN 0949149X (ISSN)


In student feedback, many students expressed difficulty with the concepts being taught. There was a difficulty with quick, in-class retrieval of information. To facilitate transfer, understanding and retention of knowledge there needs to be prior knowledge in the long-term memory. In the case of complex engineering problems, the performance outputs are a function of many input variables. Airfoil design is a good example - the engineer needs to understand the dependence of performance parameters on the input conditions along with the physical phenomena. Visual representation is a powerful means of depicting cause and effect relationships. It can be reasoned by adding relational, interpretive visuals to a lesson, a higher level of learning will occur. In the proposed interactive program the student is given control of input variables and can see the influence these have on the primary aerodynamic concepts. It creates realistic configurations from complex theoretical calculations, facilitating the storage of information in the long-term memory. This when complemented with traditional teaching methods, allows the student to develop conceptual understanding. The programme was used in second year undergraduate engineering teaching and over a three-year period was monitored and improved. Students' performance was used to assess the effectiveness of the learning technique, as was student module feedback. The average class size for courses investigated was 26 students. The students performed better using this approach. It generated a motivation for further enquiry in the students and created an enthusiasm for student-student and student-lecturer interaction. This agrees with the constructivist theories and how social psychology affects learning.

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