Project Falcon Base: A Freshman PBL Engineering Experience 965531

A new freshman course is currently being developed and taught on a pilot basis to approximately 40 cadets per semester at the United States Air Force Academy. The purpose of the course is to better address the educational outcomes desired in Academy graduates. Problem Base Learning is used to present engineering as a problem solving process that involves a variety of interdisciplinary issues. The pedagogical setting for student teams is an Air Force System Program Office responsible for planning a deployment mission to put a research team on Mars. Students are guided by mentor-instructors to identify the relevant tasks and engineering requirements pertinent to the plan. Traditional instruction is used sparingly only to present tools that enhance students' learning. An integrated assessment program is also part of the course development. It is being used to determine the value of this instructional approach, and how well the educational outcomes are being met. The quantitative assessment findings for the first year are inconclusive and indicate further work is needed to develop reliable assessment instruments for this course. Qualitative findings, however, show that the students learned important engineering fundamentals, liked the course and enjoyed the Mars scenario. They also developed an understanding and appreciation for engineering, developed confidence in their ability to make decisions for problem-solving, and they acquired self esteem not usually obtained from traditional engineering courses. This paper presents highlights from the first year along with a discussion on changes for the second year.


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