Against a backdrop of compelling societal needs, graduates in science and engineering now must master their disciplines and demonstrate a sophisticated level of cognitive, affective and social development. This has lead a number of national and international commissions on science and engineering to urge educators to re-think the way in which STEM disciplines are taught. We have chosen to "repackage" a traditional undergraduate materials engineering curriculum in a form designed to promote the development of higher-order cognitive skills like self-directed learning and design. Classic metallurgy experiments have been converted to project-based learning experiences where students are put in the role of "designers" of problem solutions and faculty play the role of coaches. These include: designing, prototyping and marketing of a cast metal object; systems designing, building and testing of a fiber optic spectrometer; product improvement of a prosthetic device; evaluation of oxidation process for production; design and evaluation of a heat treatment process for roller bearings; and materials characterization of an everyday product. Projects were designed to leverage known relationships within the educational psychology literature that enable deeper learning. Evaluation of 36 juniors in a project-based learning course (i.e., the test cohort) against a quasi-control group in traditional engineering courses showed that the test cohort scored significantly higher on two motivation scales shown to be critical components in self-directed learning (p<0.001). The test cohort also reported a significantly higher use of peers as learning resources than the quasi-control group. Their motivation scores also correlate highly with self-reported comfort with several aspects of design, implying that their motivation contributes significantly to students' ability to effectively engage in the design process. In this paper, we present examples of the materials engineering projects that were designed and implemented, and the design features that enable them to promote the development of sophisticated cognitive functioning.


Materials Science and Engineering

Publisher statement

Publisher website: Materials Research Society



URL: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/mate_fac/2