Success for tomorrow’s engineers necessitates the design of curricula that promote awareness of the broader impacts of engineering, enhances systems thinking, reflects sustainable engineering practices, and helps prepare students to make an impact in the global community. Project-based learning approaches that emphasize student learning rather than instructor teaching may be a key to successful development of “global engineers.” Evaluations of project-based courses show increases in student motivation, problem-solving ability, communication and teaming skills, knowledge retention, and capacity for self-directed learning. Despite these reported benefits, curriculum-wide implementations of project-based learning are rare, probably partly due to the traditional emphasis on technical content acquisition in upper-level courses and a lack of clear methods for ensuring that core competencies are not lost through the project-based mode of learning. To better equip students to be successful global engineers, we recently initiated a large-scale transformation of our undergraduate materials engineering curriculum. The redesign includes a major change in the junior year from traditional subject-based courses to project-based courses facilitated by faculty teams. In the new approach, the learning of fundamental materials engineering content is driven by a series of authentic, hands-on projects. In this paper, we describe a collaborative faculty process for the systematic design of project-based courses for disciplinary core competencies. It involves developing a shared understanding of the vision and goals, identifying user needs and values, articulating and grouping the disciplinary core competencies (knowledge, skills, and attitudes), and designing the project-based experience through an iterative process of embedding core competencies and mapping the experience back to the user needs. We will draw upon our experience in converting the entire junior-year sequence in materials engineering at Cal Poly (12 separate courses) to a project-based learning mode. We briefly discuss the challenges we faced during the transition to the new approach, and provide an overview of the initial student responses to the new learning environment and an assessment of their performance.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/rsavage/5/