Challenge-based instruction, a method of instruction where course content is framed around and driven by a complex problem or set of problems, requires learners to continually evaluate posed challenges based on what they know and refine this understanding through a series of formal learning experiences. A version of challenge-based learning has been used in an introductory course of dynamics to teach kinetics and kinematics to sophomores in a civil engineering department at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. As an introduction to specific instructional sequences, students were posed a challenge to frame the remaining lectures for that topic. Once the challenge was introduced and before any formal instruction, students were asked to generate ideas about the immediate problems they needed to solve and to generate ideas about potential solutions. In addition, they were asked to generate questions about what more they needed to learn in order to better solve the problem. Next, students engaged in a series of lectures, discussions and problem solving exercises to explore the concepts associated with answering the challenge. At the end of the instructional sequence, students were asked to submit their solution to the initial challenge. An initial study of this approach compared exam question scores between students of challenge-based instruction and traditional lecture and homework problems sets. Results showed the challenge-based students outperformed the prior cohort of students on exam questions similar to those found in the textbook. Therefore, the exam questions were more focused on recall of basic concepts and did not require the same level of processing as the challenges required of students. In this second study, additional questions were added to the exams to better align with the challenges. Initial analysis of the data indicates that students increase their ability to generate ideas and questions using concepts and principles applied in the earlier challenges. The analysis of results also helps describe the limits of students' conceptual understanding of the governing principles and how these limits diminish with time. Therefore, students are on a learning progress that increases their potential for generalizing their knowledge which will increase their potential to use it in less familiar context. The results of this study will be interesting to instructors and researchers involved in the teaching and learning of dynamics. This paper provides an overview of the fundamental concepts covered by the modules, common challenges to learning dynamics and a qualitative analysis of students work on the challenge statements and exam questions.
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:
- Lovell, M.D. & Brophy, S. P. (2014). Transfer Effects of Challenge-based Lessons in an Undergraduate Dynamics Course, 121st ASEE Annual Conf., Indianapolis, IN.