For many engineers and technologists, their only exposure to materials engineering principles occurs within a single fundamentals course. Within that course, the students must conceptualize a wide variety of interdisciplinary topics drawn from chemistry, physics, engineering, and mathematics. Often, the students consider this fundamentals course challenging because it is likely that this is the first time that they are to develop understanding in such an interdisciplinary environment. Research studies in engineering education, which are based in social and cognitive constructivism, indicate that students build scaffolds from existing cognitive structures to new information when the students are able to make connections to their existing knowledge and experiences. It is also known that prior learning heavily influences this learning and that motivation plays a key role in the time that students devote to acquiring new knowledge. Research has also shown cooperative learning, understanding of individual student learning styles, and inductive teaching practices are important components that lead to improved Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). The only way to truly understand effective practice is to implement constructively aligned strategies, problems, and concept learning opportunities, and then measure the SLOs. Additionally, an in-depth study of prior knowledge, conceptual understanding, and experiences is absolutely essential as key research questions are probed.
This paper describes research work underway at Western Washington University to understand how to improve SLOs in a fundamental materials engineering course by investigating students’ prior knowledge and conceptual understanding, measuring individual learning styles, measuring the effectiveness of different constructively aligned course modules based upon ‘WHERETO” principles with collaborative problem sets or design problems, investigating the effect of pre-exam quizzing, measuring term-long conceptual gains, and developing Information Communication Technology (ICT) enabled applications to support and enhance student learning. Future investigations will probe how more personalizable instruction that allows for student differences might be accomplished with ICT applications, especially for large lecture classes.