A New Approach to Equip Students to Solve 21st-Century Global Challenges: Integrated Problem-Based Mechanical Engineering Laboratory

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Our curriculum offered subject-based laboratory courses in five different disciplines using structured procedures to accommodate our large undergraduate student population. Like many other universities, lack of critical thinking became a significant problem in these traditional laboratory courses. Besides, students learn fundamental engineering knowledge as isolated subjects. This affects their ability to understand engineering problems holistically and creates barriers to learning transfer. This Work-in-Progress paper summarizes our current effort to redesign the Penn State Mechanical Engineering laboratory curriculum using a new approach, in which laboratory activities based on 21st-century engineering problems are used to enhance students' higher-order thinking skills and reinforce fundamental knowledge. Topics of the laboratory activities included Sustainability, Machine Learning, Additive Manufacturing, Autonomy and Robotics, and Energy. In this course, students apply their prior knowledge in Heat Transfer, Fluid Mechanics, Solid Mechanics, Materials, and Chemistry and integrating with new material to solve complex engineering problems involved multiples principles. To gradually improve student's critical thinking ability, we structured this course into six levels, following the Revised Bloom's taxonomy. Students use their cognitive skills to plan and conduct investigations on a series of engineering problems with increased complexity. Opportunities to utilize essential practical skills for engineers, include Data Acquisition, Data Analysis, Critical Thinking, Numerical Simulation, Problem Solving, Design of Experiments, and Communication Skills, have also been incorporated into these lab modules. In this work, we summarize a total of nine multiple-week lab activities, which are designed to prepare students to work in fields related to both thermal and mechanical systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jul 26 2021
Event2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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