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Materials engineering and design at UBC - Broadening the scope and engaging students

Dr Goran Fernlund | University of British Columbia

Materials engineering and design at UBC - Broadening the scope and engaging students

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Materials engineering is getting increasingly divided into sub-specialties. We now offer dedicated courses in biomaterials, nanomaterials, electronic materials, etc. with little emphasis on the connection between them. The results of this is seen in our graduating engineers who often find it difficult to judiciously apply their knowledge and skills to complex, multi-disciplinary real-world problems. After having taught a fairly traditional upper year course in fracture mechanics for a number or years and getting increasingly concerned about student engagement and the practical relevance of the course, the course was redesigned to make it broader, more engaging and more relevant to overall student development. The original course was a traditional lecture style course where the theories of fracture mechanics were presented during the lectures, accompanied by problem sets allowing the students to apply the concepts to fairly artificial text-book problems. The redesigned course is case and team-based, where real-world engineering failures are studied, analyzed and evaluated. The course uses a "flipped classroom" approach where students are doing the background reading on their own time. Class time is used for team and individual quizzes, group and class discussions about applicable theories, analysis approaches, uncertainty, design choices, materials selection, manufacturing, impact on engineering on society, accountability and ethics. By changing the course from being theory to applications driven, the student engagement is significantly increased and instead of just addressing some specialized theories and analysis methods, the new course exposes the students to a wide variety of important issues related to the engineering profession. In the old course, students checked if their answers were right in the back to the text book. In the new course no answers are given and the students are held accountable for the assumptions, methods, accuracy and uncertainty of their work and subsequent consequences to the society at large.