Erik Näslund and Thomas Mejtoft

In engineering, many courses have been around for years and only few changes to the course structure have been made to meet new, and current, demands from the students and from the industry. Focusing mainly on lectures has limitations on students learning [1] and today combining lectures with student-centered learning is important. This paper describes the outcome of a completely revised course implementation for the course Thermodynamics (15 ETCS) during fall 2014, a standard physics course at basic level. Historically, this course has been taught in a traditional way, i.e. almost daily lectures combined with a week of lab classes where a written examination concluded the course. Hence, during the course there were roughly 25-30 lectures, during which most parts of the literature were covered. However, analyzing the results from the course over a 10 year period, where different lecturers have been teaching the course, no significant differences in the examination results due to the teacher can be observed. Hence, it basically did not matter if the lecturer were young, old, experienced or unexperienced. Sometimes more lectures were given, sometimes less without any effect on the students’ results. Consequently, the exam results are very much dependent on the students’ own effort, i.e. if the student put in the hours needed, he/she will clear the exam. This observation is not new and of course somewhat disappointing for an enthusiastic lecturer that has a belief in that he/she can make a big difference for the student. With these observations in mind, we set out to do something radically different where the key question is how we get the student to devote sufficient time to pass the exam. Thus, in the revised syllabus, only eight lectures of overview character were given, usually at the start of each course week. After each lecture, the students were given eight assignments that they should prepare, and be able to present, at a seminar at the end of the week. To increase the students’ willingness to actually fulfill the assignment, they were rewarded bonus at the written exam. Consequently, the aim was to “kick-start” the students, i.e. they should start working from day one and not leave a major part of their studies until the final weeks of the course. Hence, self-centered learning was in focus and make students enhance the disciplinary knowledge [2]. The outcome of this rather drastic change of course layout will be discussed and analyzed thoroughly in the full paper. However the results show that the percentage of students that passed the written exam turned out to be roughly the same as before, but how they performed at the exam and behaved during the course showed a number of interesting differences compared to results and behavior emerging from a traditional course outline. Thus, the results illustrate how changing the focus from teacher-centric to student-centric has limited negative effects on the formal outcome of traditional engineering courses.

[1] Felder, R. M., & Silverman, L. K. (1988). Learning and teaching styles in engineering education. Engr. Education, 78(7), 674-681. [2] Crawley, E. F., Malmqvist, J., Östlund, S., & Brodeur, D. R. (2007). Rethinking engineering education: The CDIO approach. Springer.

Proceedings of the 11th International CDIO Conference, Chengdu, China, June 8-11 2015

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