P. Willmot, A. Sutton

Loughborough University (UNITED KINGDOM)
Many educators are frustrated with the challenge of how to motivate the ever increasing number of students entering university who appear to be psychologically, socially, and academically unprepared for the demands of university life and so providing motivators, beyond those gained by the award of marks is a key challenge. Hertzberg’s two-factor theory suggests awarding marks is a ‘hygiene factor’ rather than a ‘positive motivator’ and, while such needs are essential, they are insufficient for the strong personal growth and fulfillment that comes from having real ownership and involvement in the learning.

This paper describes one element of a year-long module for mechanical engineering students that embraces the concept of ‘enquiry based learning’ where student-centered project work and skills workshops sit alongside and provide motivators for a broadly traditional first-year curriculum. It was decided to introduce a break from didactic delivery in the fifth week of the first semester to encourage and excite students who were evidently still adjusting to university lectures, as it had been observed that some were starting to become unmotivated and inert. The 180 strong cohort is divided into tutorial teams of 6 from the outset and following an initial teambuilding exercise, the teams have generally begun to bond as they enter ‘project week’.

In project week, 2013, 30 teams competed to build and test a trebuchet; first they mathematically modeled the flight of various projectiles and produced a CAD design to their defined specification. Parts were manufactured using an industry-scale CNC laser cutter. A knock-out competition took place at the end of the week, after building testing and development phases. Strong bonds among team members and the willingness to work beyond normal class hours were observed through this exciting and motivational challenge. There is also evidence that the exercise proved a powerful vehicle for enhancing practical understanding of fundamental mechanics that was revealed to be generally lacking.