The steam generator project – The development of key competencies in first year engineering physics students in Guangxi, China
Project based learning is common in engineering education and is often used to develop core competencies of content knowledge, design and process skills necessary to be engineers. In this paper, I describe the implementation of a project based physics foundation module in Guangxi, China. Central to the design of the module was the construction of a simple steam generator that combined core content with an introduction to experimental physics as well as mechanical design. In the project, students, who were all second language speakers of English, were expected to construct and test a steam generator. This process required them to use conceptual knowledge as well as design and process skills. The main purpose of the project, however, was to address the development of English language, something that was necessary for the students to later study engineering in New Zealand. Initially, this was done through a vocabulary acquisition system that was used to build the vocabulary needed for the reports the students needed to write for the project later on. Key conceptual knowledge was addressed as the project unfolded, as were the necessary skills needed to make the generator. To investigate the effectiveness of the process, a case study approach was used to evaluate the performance of the students. Findings indicate that the project was successful in developing a strong community of practice and in particular that it had a positive effect on the students’ acquisition of engineering English.
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