Conversations on the Art and Science of Engineering Modeling
Frequently, professors may wish to present advanced engineering concepts to freshman and sophomore engineering students, but their methodologies often seem geared to more experienced learners. Therefore, they focus on traditional lecture/classroom teaching styles, which can be less effective in engaging the students in conversations about the subject. Conversations among the facilitator of learning and the students can be appealing because they allow presentation of different ideas on a given subject and collaborative construction of knowledge based on these ideas. It is believed that lower-division engineering students can become proficient in advanced concepts when they engage in conversations about the subject. To test this hypothesis, a pilot effort was conducted in which conversations among several students (primarily freshmen and sophomores), a doctoral student, and an engineering professor took place weekly. The discussions followed an active-learning, student-based, collaborative approach to various topics related to mass, energy, and momentum conservation. A literature review was also performed to determine the extent of the implementation of these active approaches in engineering classes for upper (and sometimes lower) division students. This contribution will highlight aspects of these conversations and offer selected illustrations. The students’ overall view seems to indicate that conversations, conducted as previously discussed, provide beneficial exposure to key engineering concepts before they are encountered in a formal class, help develop a mathematical framework, encourage analytical skills, simulate the real world, and familiarize students with searching for information on their own, thus preparing them to be more engaged, informed, and competent students and engineers.