J. Gerber1, N. Rumler2, S. Staude2

1Cologne University of Applied Sciences (GERMANY)
2Ruhr West University of Applied Sciences (GERMANY)
Thermodynamics is one of the core modules of mechanical and energy engineering degrees, dealing with very abstract concepts. It is generally seen by students as difficult and exam failure rates of over 50% are no rarity. The aim of this work is to develop a module concept and teaching methodology for a thermodynamics module as is found in most mechanical and energy engineering degree programs that will enable the students to apply the thermodynamic theory to typical problems they will face as engineers.

The module was designed following Biggs principle of constructive alignment. In a first step, the learning outcomes for the module were developed by considering the competencies required to solve a typical engineering problem. This was done in cooperation with the students using a very concrete exemplary problem. The learning outcomes included competencies from different dimensions; knowledge, methodology, self-conception, physical/psychological resilience. Based on the learning outcomes the module was planned and the teaching methods were chosen (taking resource constraints into account). The exam was also designed in an attempt to achieve constructive alignment.

The module was held for two cohorts: second semester students of an industrial engineering program (energy engineering with management) and fourth semester students of a mechanical engineering program, both cohorts with around 80 students. In order to evaluate the approach, three measures were chosen: observations during the semester, a self-evaluation of the students and qualitative interviews. The self-evaluation was carried out by an anonymous 24-item questionnaire that was completed at the beginning and at the end of the 15-week lecture period of the module. Qualitative interviews were carried out with six students. The results show a considerable discrepancy between self-evaluation and exam results, especially for the second semester students.

The results of the interviews were used to:
a) help explain the discrepancy between exam results and self-evaluation as well as between the students of different cohorts and
b) to investigate further the effectiveness of the teaching approach with respect to the desired learning outcomes and to identify areas for change.

On the basis of these results the module concept and teaching methodology for a thermodynamics module are developed further.