Engineering evolves through technical creativity, collaboration, and a solid foundation of fundamental knowledge. More than ever, our students are interested in generating a large social impact that will change the world. With these tenets in mind, I use a womanist approach to foster a collaborative environment with experiential learning for students to develop higher-order thinking skills, understand the broader scope and effectively communicate technical outcomes to solve problems.
A successful womanist collaborative environment accounts for various learning styles while fostering inclusiveness. Typical lectures benefit visual, verbal and active learners. While reading and take home assignments benefit reflective and sensing learners. However, I believe, material repetition combined with association enhances the aforementioned methods. Repetitive exposure to concepts helps with retention and comprehension but associating the material with familiar concepts and real world application helps students foster a connection. Once a commonality is found, it enables students to think critically about a concept and contribute to the learning environment. Also, I supplement material repetition with less traditional methods, such as Prezi presentations and using WebQuests to flip the classroom and facilitate student ownership. Additionally, the use of various methods increases support and reduces isolation through the promotion of material comprehension at an individual level to generate peer teaching within the cohorts.
Once basic engineering concepts are introduced, higher-order thinking skillsare needed for students to strengthen their understanding. Higher-order refers to applying, analyzing, designing and creating utilizing fundamental principles. In my Engineering Innovation (EI) course at Johns Hopkins University, teams were required to build a truss bridge with provided specifications. Prior to creating the final product, they were instructed in statics, material science and the design process. With minimal instructional input, higher-order thinking was used to create a finished bridge. Each team was assessed through weight loading and design. In an introductory heat transfer course, I will use a semester project that focuses on the development of certain types of thermal systems and their projections for future designs.
As engineers, we interact with various levels of knowledge and backgrounds. My goal is to ensure students can understand the broader scopeto effectively incorporate society-at-large and communicate their findings to technical and non-technical audiences. This skill is imperative to the students’ desire to invoke change. Many of the students in my Introduction to Engineering Disciplines course at the University of California Los Angeles were first generation college students. As first quarter freshmen, they were able to conduct research in faculty labs for their major while peers and staff evaluated them during their final presentation. One of the learning outcomes focused on demonstrating the students’ comprehension of their contribution on a macro and micro level via oral presentation and other project deliverables. During mid-term lab visits, it was evident that students understood their tasks but were still formulating methods to convey the broader scope of their work. With an emphasis on technical communication, final presentations displayed their comprehension and ability to effectively communicatedifficult topics to a general audience. This is very critical for the development of future engineers for the workforce.
The content of my courses is equally important as my instruction methodology. Thermal fluids and heat transfer courses speak to the very foundation of mechanical engineering. However, we are an evolving discipline that reaches into various subsets that are becoming increasingly important, such as artificial intelligence and the internet of things. This coupled with the desire of our students to have lasting social impact is an opportunity to immerse our students in interdisciplinary courses that provide them with an opportunity to solve problems in outside of their capstone/senior design projects. The National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges Scholar program allows us to design courses that “prepare students to be the generation that solves the grand challenges facing society in this century” by exposing them to the intersection of engineering, policy, and social concepts. This would possible through the adaption of the Sustainable Design of Technology Systems course in collaboration with the Center for Socially Engaged Design.
In conclusion, higher-order thinking skills, understanding the broader scope and effectively communicating technical outcomes are important for successful engineers. Higher-order thinking requires students to think beyond basic concepts. This is aided by understanding the broader scope, which can be used to effectively communicate outcomes. With these goals in mind, using material repetition with association to reach different learning styles and expanding courses is key. These areas of focus within a womanist collaborative environment promote student-centered learning and develop well-rounded engineers who can adapt and excel in any environment.