Coupling team learning and computer technology in project-driven undergraduate engineering education
Technology-Based Re-Engineering Engineering Education Proceedings of Frontiers in Education FIE'96 26th Annual Conference
Local and national surveys consistently point to two weaknesses in undergraduate engineering education: our graduates have poor communication and interpersonal skills, and they have poor computing skills. The former inhibits students from taking active roles in team-oriented projects and presenting the results, while the latter limits their ability to analyze and solve complex problems. However, for various reasons, undergraduate civil engineering education has been slow to respond to these
... s. Rather, we tend to hold on to the same learning paradigm that has educated engineers for the last several decades; namely, passive classroom lectures, individual homework assignments, and problem-solving exams. Group activities, if they are included at all, tend to be simplistic and ill-supervised. In select courses in our department at the University of Oklahoma, we are beginning to address these weaknesses via classroom reform. The paradigm centers on project-driven assignments, by which we mean students are organized into teams and given a complex design question at the beginning of the semester before any substantive background material is delivered. In the remainder of the semester (or portion thereof, if several tasks are to be assigned), class activities, be they short lectures or class discussions or group exercises, are driven by student questions on how to complete the project. In essence, the syllabus for the course is an evolving document based on student curiosity. Moreover, beginning in the Fall of 1997, all of our incoming students will have a personal computer with remote networking capabilities. In addition to using the computer as an alternate medium of instruction, we intend to incorporate the latest design software, which will allow the projects to be more "real worldly." Overall, the format mimics the dynamic team-oriented environment found in consulting and industry, and will better prepare our graduates for a rewarding career. Examples drawn from an on-going, team-taught course entitled "Environmental Modeling," are discussed.