Innovations in undergraduate engineering mechanics education: Use of team-based research-led project methods for large student cohorts

Rueda, M. A. F. and Gilchrist, M. D. (2011) Innovations in undergraduate engineering mechanics education: Use of team-based research-led project methods for large student cohorts. International Journal of Engineering Education, 27 (4 PART). pp. 821-830. ISSN 0949149X (ISSN)


As a cornerstone subject for all undergraduate engineering degree programmes, mechanics is best taught from fundamental principles and by reinforcing students' learning through active learning strategies. This approach provides students with a solid understanding of basic concepts before they subsequently study more advanced topics such as dynamics, control, solid mechanics and fluid mechanics. MEEN10030, Mechanics for Engineers, is a compulsory module taught annually in Semester I to 260 First Year students at University College Dublin, Ireland's largest university. The syllabus topics include forces, Newton's laws of motion, statics in two and three dimensions, equilibrium, friction, trusses and cables, distributed forces, centres of mass and centroids, motion, and kinematics of a particle and of a rigid body. Traditional teaching of this subject relies solely on formal lectures and tutorials, without any laboratory sessions or student assignments, both of which are resource intensive. Five years ago, following a programme review in 2006, this module was completely revised and the subject material was rationalised with regard to what is taught in subsequent Second Year modules. Three entirely integrated laboratory sessions were developed so that groups of students would complete a variety of analytical and enquiry-led exercises in numerical, graphical and written form. A more recent additional major initiative, introduced three years ago in2008, provides team-based assignments to the entire 260 students in which groups of up to five students are set a design challenge directly related to one specific topic from the course material. These changes have proven popular with students and have led to improved learning outcomes and student performance without compromising on academic standards. This paper describes these innovative developments in which Irish engineering students have opportunities for research-led active learning in this manner. © 2011 TEMPUS Publications.

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