Date of Award

6-2011

Degree Name

MS in Mechanical Engineering

Department

Mechanical Engineering

Advisor

Andrew Kean

Abstract

Undergraduate engineering education is designed to prepare students for their careers. The rise of technology in modern engineering allows for a shift in the way undergraduates are prepared for the modern workplace. Model Eliciting Activities (MEAs) allow students to think critically about their own work and allow instructors to analyze the students’ problem solving methods. To ensure that new MEAs are as effective as possible they are subject to six basic principles: model construction, reality, generalizability, self-assessment, model documentation, and effective prototype.

This document focuses on evaluating new MEAs for their adherence to the six principles from an instructor's and student's perspective. Four new MEAs were created and implemented in the school year of 2009-2010. Two of the MEAs were designed to target a sophomore level thermal engineering class. The first was an introduction to data acquisition systems (DAQs) and the second was an introduction to strain gauges. These two MEAs were tested on two separate classes and were evaluated strictly from an instructor’s perspective. The two MEAs met their objectives for introducing DAQs and strain gauges respectively and managed to reinforce existing ideas at the same time. However, the MEA about DAQs appeared to adhere to all of the six principles while the MEA about strain gauges did not.

The other two MEAs were designed for an introductory thermodynamics course. The students' solutions to the MEAs were analyzed to determine the MEAs' effectiveness as well as how well they follow the six principles of MEAs. The first MEA was centered around a supermileage vehicle and asks the students to model an engine cycle from a P-V diagram of a real engine cycle. Careful analysis of the solutions that the students turned in found that the MEA did not provide a way for the students to verify their models. It was also found that students were learning about isothermal and adiabatic curves on their own which satisfied the main goal of the MEA which was to familiarize the students with simple processes. The second activity was based upon an industrial process that delivered waste energy into a river and the students were asked to model a power plant that could use the energy and lower the amount of heat dumped into the river. The objective was to get the students to think about entropy and how much energy can be salvaged in the system. A vast majority of students enjoyed the activity saying it was well worth their time, while only half of the students identified that entropy had some part in the MEA. Whether or not the objective to get the students to associate usable energy with entropy production was accomplished is uncertain. What was determined was that some students were unable to check their answers and they developed models that were inaccurate. From this observation it was seen that the self assessment principle was not being properly addressed.

All of the developed MEAs satisfied their end goals of teaching the students the material that the MEA was developed around. The two most prominent issues were students misunderstanding the problem statement and students not being able to verify their models. These are important observations for these particular MEAs that were only possible through intensive analysis of the solutions from a student's perspective. The detailed analysis of the solutions using the six principles as a guideline provided insight to some of the problems students were having. For future work, these same MEAs could be improved upon and then analyzed again to see if the analysis is consistent and that the identified problems were corrected.

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