Facilitating Learning With a Project-Based Curriculum That Engages 1st- Year Engineering Students

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



First Year Programs, Engineering Design, engineering curricula, engagement, engineering students, team-based learning


Facilitating Learning With a Project-Based Curriculum That Engages 1st-Year Engineering Students. Much research has been done about the many forms in which learning takes place in the engineering classroom, specifically teaching strategies that are designed to engage the learner. In the 1st-year engineering program’s required core courses, engagement becomes crucial if students are to remain in engineering. Retention, as the current mass of research shows, is a major goal of 1st-year programs. Retention becomes more complicated when issues relating to the transition from high school to college are considered in the design of curricula that engage. Faculty who design curricula and teach in first-year programs must possess the ability to evaluate, be creative, know what is relevant and necessary and then be able to apply and present this knowledge in an engaging manner. 1st-year engineering program faculty have found that when facilitated student learning is the focus, students are engaged, resulting in motivation to succeed and increased retention rates.In components of 1st-year core courses, activities are created that generate inquiry through project-based learning. This approach has proven to enhance the classroom experience and retain 1st-year engineering students.Several experiments in the design project in the spring semesters of 2013 and 2014 were tested:an increase in team size, instruction in the development and writing of project requirements, pairs within teams researching alternative solution designs, and a culminating exposition in the form of a competition. The project was designed to promote inquiry-based learning as students developed the necessary transition skills through project management to succeed in their first year and subsequently, beyond into their careers. Retention was improved over previous years and anecdotal responses from students were significantly more positive about the teaming process and involvement and commitment to the project. Faculty reported weekly that the teams and projects were progressing much better than in previous years. The project for spring 2015 includes changes based on student and faculty input from spring 2013 and 2014.This paper describes a semester long 1st-year engineering conceptual design project that engages students in the design process in a way that allows them to experience being engineers and places the faculty member in the role of facilitator. The focus is on the engineering communications component of the linked, integrated core course, though changes incorporated by the engineering design and analysis component that impacts both sides will be discussed. Retention of students in the spring 2015 semester will be tracked, and surveys administered at key points in the project that are designed to query students’ level of engagement in the project and their responses to the teacher as facilitator in the classroom will be administered. A description of the design project, the changes made in the spring 2015 and semester based on the student and faculty feedback from spring 2013 and 2014, and the results of data collected throughout the 2015 spring semester will be reported.


Presented for the conference session: First-year Programs Division Technical Session 8: Project-based Learning and Cornerstone Courses at the 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition