New teaching approach touted for engineering education
June 9, 2014
Jeffrey Rhoads, left, and Charles Krousgrill are using a new teaching approach for large classes that allows students to interact with each other and faculty online while accessing hundreds of instructional videos and animations. Krousgrill, a professor of mechanical engineering, pioneered the system, called the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University researchers who developed a new approach to more effectively teach large numbers of engineering students are recommending that the approach be considered for adoption by universities globally.
The system, called the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom, allows students to interact with each other and faculty online while accessing hundreds of instructional videos and animations. It was pioneered by Charles Krousgrill, a professor of mechanical engineering, and has been used for more than two years in two mechanical engineering core courses with hundreds of students enrolled annually.
"Data analysis shows that the students are really engaging our materials, and it is having a marked effect on student performance," said Krousgrill, who is working with Jeffrey Rhoads an associate professor of mechanical engineering; Eric Nauman, a professor of mechanical engineering; and Beth Holloway, assistant dean for undergraduate education in Purdue's College of Engineering. "We'd really like to see this expand beyond the borders of Purdue and are working now to make it happen."
The teaching approach addresses the challenges of educating large core-engineering classes, which have seen increasing student enrollment in recent years, and has significantly reduced the number of students who receive a grade of D; or drop, fail or withdraw from the courses (DFW).
The new approach is detailed in a research paper being presented during the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition in Indianapolis on June 15-18. The paper was authored by Rhoads, Krousgrill, Nauman and Holloway, who also is director of the Purdue Women in Engineering Program.
The system includes highly interactive course blogs and has been implemented for five semesters in Basic Mechanics I - an introductory course in statics and strength of materials - and seven semesters in Basic Mechanics II - an introductory course in dynamics and mechanical vibration.
New findings indicate that the rate of students receiving a D, fail or withdraw from courses has been substantially reduced since its implementation. The DFW rate in Basic Mechanics I was 32 percent in the fall semester of 2008 and 18 percent in the fall semester of 2013. Likewise, the DFW rate in Basic Mechanics II was 21 percent in the spring semester of 2009 and 11 percent in the spring semester of 2013.
"With continued development and expansion we hope that the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom can be adopted at colleges and universities across the globe, rendering a positive and uniform mechanics education experience for all," Rhoads said.
A key driving force to developing the system was the need to educate more students, while also providing deeper knowledge.
"When you have more than 100 students in a classroom, you need to find a creative solution; you no longer have direct access to students," Krousgrill said. "Anecdotally speaking, typical lecture attendance appears to have actually increased with the implementation of the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom to approximately 85-95 percent, compared to the approximately 70 percent seen prior to implementation. Interestingly, instructors commonly report that the quality of in-class discussions and student engagement has increased as well."
The approach also might be used for any large STEM-related courses.
One obstacle, however, to its widespread adoption is resistance from faculty.
"Despite the seemingly positive impact on student performance and outcomes, there remain key challenges for broader implementation, most of which are strongly tied to faculty buy-in," Nauman said.
Writers: Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sources: Charles Krousgrill, 765-494-5738, email@example.com
Jeffrey Rhoads, 765-494-5630, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Nauman, 765-494-8602, email@example.com
Beth Holloway, 765-494-0274, firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to Journalists: An electronic copy of the research paper is available from Emil Venere, Purdue News Service, at 765-494-4709, email@example.com
The Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom: A New Approach to Engineering Mechanics Education
Jeffrey F. Rhoads, Eric Nauman, Beth M. Holloway, and Charles M. Krousgrill
Motivated by the need to address the broad spectrum of learning styles embraced by today’s engineering students, a desire to encourage active, peer-to-peer, and self-learning, and a goal of interacting with every student despite ever-expanding enrollments, the mechanics faculty at Purdue University have developed the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom (PMFC) – a new approach to engineering mechanics education. This complete, yet evolving, course system, implemented to date in two courses: ME 27000: Basic Mechanics I (an introductory-level course in engineering statics, which serves students in numerous engineering disciplines) and ME 27400: Basic Mechanics II (an introductory-level course in dynamics and mechanical vibration, which serves students primarily in mechanical engineering), seeks to combine the more successful elements of the traditional classroom with new hybrid textbooks, extensive multimedia content, and web2.0 interactive technologies to create linked physical and virtual learning environments that not only appeal to students, but markedly improve their technical competency in foundational engineering technical areas.