7 Creative Ways to Teach Engineering

Ginelle Testa

It’s no secret that education is seeing a decline in engagement. It’s becoming more and more difficult to get students to be active and excited in class due to technology and mental health issues. Finding new ways to teach engineering to 20 or even 200 students can be exhausting, and the subject can feel inaccessible to students, especially when lecturing is the primary teaching method. You don’t have to toss lectures, but you can incorporate other creative ways to engage your students. We’ve identified eight ways to make your engineering teaching life more manageable and fun! 

1. Use real-world examples

Getting too deep too quickly with language and examples that are unfamiliar to students can make learning engineering challenging. Starting with examples they can relate to may prove helpful! Examples exist all throughout our daily life. According to an engineering recruitment agency, “Bridges, cars, phones, computers, aircraft – all are designed and produced by engineers.” In what ways can you align your existing teachings with everyday life?

2. Learn Through Storylines

Cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner’s research suggests that people are 20 times more likely to remember facts if they’re part of a story. Stories are easy to remember because there’s context, and it’s fun. The ease of remembering and level of engagement is why all Labster’s simulations follow a storyline.

In Labster’s virtual engineering lab, Newton's Laws of Motion: Understand active and passive safety in motorsports, students will join a team of motorsport engineers and learn the basics of Newton’s laws of motion. They’ll understand passive and active safety principles while driving a high-class race car. 

Race car in a virtual lab Newton's Laws of Motion: Understand active and passive safety in motorsport.

3. Leverage technology

Engineering has always been a technological space, but now instructors are being asked to adapt at a rapid pace. Keeping up with the latest technology isn’t easy, but getting students prepared for careers is worth it. Some examples of important current technologies Practical Engineering LLC gave are CAD in the Cloud, Robotics, and AI.  

4. Host a virtual field trip

Virtual field trips allow students to go to environments they might not otherwise have access to.  For example, rollercoasters aren’t always part of learning in a classroom! Virtual labs can be a great way to do this, and Labster has a variety of engineering virtual labs available. 

In Labster’s virtual lab, Conservation of Energy: maximize the mechanical energy of a rollercoaster, students can take a “trip” to an amusement park to learn the ins and outs of rollercoasters. They’ll calculate potential, kinetic, and mechanical energy using the formula board to determine how to improve the roller coaster track.

Rollercoaster in a virtual lab conservation of energy.

5. Teach with Project-Based Learning

The five main components of project-based learning (PBL) are learning goals, considerations, project milestones, products, and resources. According to a study, “Project-based learning offers students the opportunities to experience engineering design the way it is practiced and simulated in industry,” giving them greater exposure, experience, and confidence. 

6. Teach using the Engineering Design Process (EDP)

The key components of EDP are “ask, imagine, plan, create, test, and improve.” This process aims to get students to develop critical thinking skills. A study found this: “We are suggesting that the problem solving perspective of engineering design can be used by teachers to collaboratively create science/STEM activities that teach and utilize engineering design. This will lead to more engaged students, with benefits for those students.”

7. Use Backward Design

Grant Wiggins, the co-founder of the Understanding by Design® program and framework, posed a question to inspire reflection on this method:  "If you had to write a one-sentence mission statement for your course, what would it be?" The answer to this question is your goal for the course. Having a clear goal is critical because it allows you to work backward from it to make choices about how to instruct students and assess their learning. As an instructor, you can prioritize the engineering learning outcomes for students. 

Questions For Reflection:

  • What other way have you found to engage students in engineering class?
  • Which of these options might you try in class in the future?
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