Scenario Based Learning

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The successful practice of engineering in today’s workplace requires the integration of a broad range of skills that often extend beyond standard engineering curricula. This involves interpersonal skills such as teamwork, communication and persuasion, and business skills such as entrepreneurship, cost management and marketing.

Scenario-based learning (SBL) curriculum has been developed by Sheri Sheppard (as the engineering content expert) and Mark Schar (as the entrepreneurial content expert) and tested for the past four years at Stanford University. The SBL curriculum is designed to support an introductory solid mechanics or statics course. In 2014-2105 two partners have joined this research effort - Dr. Bob Witt and Jonathan Green at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Bob Rice and Duval Johnson at the University of California-Merced.


SBL Learning Theory

The SBL approach also supports David Kolb’s Experiential Learning model. Kolb asserts that learning is “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience” and happens along two continuums – a perception continuum and a processing continuum. Effective learning occurs when the student shifts internal cognitive processes along these continuums. The perception continuum encourages the learner to transition between “thinking,” a process of abstract conceptualization and “feeling,” largely based on experiences. The process continuum encourages the learner to shift between “watching,” a process of observation and reflection and “doing,” an active stage of experimentation. Kolb also posits that students have a “learning preference” – converging, associating, diverging and assimilating – and this learning preference can be used to identify differences in the learning process by discipline.

The SBL curriculum attempts to touch on each learning quadrant - converging, associating, diverging and assimilating. Research with students who have experienced the SBL curriculum shows good overall satisfaction with the curriculum and higher satisfaction among students with an associating or diverging learning style.

Scenario-Based Learning Curriculum

Scenario-based learning curriculum moves beyond previous case method curricula by incorporating a four-module pedagogical process. This begins with the scenario or story, a four to six page description of the situation. The scenario features protagonists (engineering students or recent graduates) who are struggling with a real world problem and contains relevant information required to solve the challenge. The scenario does not include core engineering content, as this is covered in regular class sessions, but it does include instruction in key entrepreneurial concepts.

In class, student teams participate in a hands-on lab, illustrating the relevant engineering concepts. These labs require about 50-60 minutes of class time and includes team discussion where students must explore various ways of completing the lab tasks. The final step in the process is a homework assignment that requires students to synthesize their learning and make a choice for how they would proceed as a character in the story. The labs are supported by short videos showing the lab activities and a video lecture explaining the entrepreneurial content in each scenario.

Scenarios and Content

These are the available SBL curriculum and curriculum under development:
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  • Madison Longboard - Choosing a Truck - The scenario involves two recent mechanical engineering graduates (Samantha and Adam) from the University of Wisconsin who start a company to pursue the opportunity of marathon longboarding. The first challenge is to choose the trucks and to do that the student must determine the forces on both the front and back trucks assuming different stances by the rider. The lab uses meter sticks, a jeweler scale and moveable weights to aid in the calculation. Engineering Concepts: normal force, normal stress, moments, moment center, planar systems and safety factor Entrepreneurial Concepts: business model, value proposition, revenue model, cost model, profit model

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    Madison Longboard - Designing a Deck - This continues the story of Sam and Adam as they design the marathon longboard deck.  The lab uses material samples, L-brackets, rubber hands and a 50N tube scale. Engineering Concepts: modulus of elasticity, deflection, neutral axis, cantilever beam, bending stress, design for deflection Entrepreneurial Concepts: vision statement, mission statement, SWOT analysis, business risk, business uncertainty

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    Trek b-cycle - This scenario follows a young mechanical engineer working a Trek Bicycles who is tasked with designing and sourcing a drive train for a new urban shared bicycle. The student must pick a customer persona (from three options), justify why that is the correct choice and specify the ideal chainring and cassette pairing. Engineering Concepts: mechanical advantage, output load/input load, gears, speed ratio, multiple FBDs  Entrepreneurial Concepts: personas, empathy, product planning, interpersonal relationships, vendor relations

  • Baby Buffalo (Under Development) - This scenario is about a recent masters-level mechanical engineering product design student who takes a job with a non-profit in Myanmar. The challenge is to determine why a treadle pump is failing prematurely and then determine if expansion should be delayed (missing a dry season) or fix in place the following season. There is also an opportunity to lengthen the treadles making it possible for children to do the irrigation and the student must decide if this change is wise. Engineering Concepts: shear force, stresses in pressure vessels, torque and moment, cantilever beams, stress/strain, ductile/brittle failure Entrepreneurial Concepts: social entrepreneurship, systemic thinking, engineering ethics, unintended consequences, funding models

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    Yosemite Bridge - This is a longstanding and very popular class exercise in ENGR-14 that is being "fitted" with a scenario.  The scenario involves two UC-Merced mechanical engineering students who have graduated and started an ironworks company.  They are invited to bid on a new footbridge project  at the nearby Yosemite National Park.  The Park Engineer insists on not only a design that meets specification but also a scale model test of the design.  To insure that they can also run a business the students prepare an Engineering Report outlining the bridge characteristics and their business model. This scenario takes portions of four classes over two weeks and the students build and test a scale model of their bridge design. Engineering Concepts: trusses, equilibrium of trusses, analysis of joints, analysis of sections, two force members, design to a safety factor, failure analysis  Entrepreneurial Concepts: business model canvass, technical writing

SBL Research

Schar, M. F., S. L. Billington, and S.D. Sheppard. “Predicting Entrepreneurial Intent among Entry-Level Engineering Students,” In 121st ASEE Annual Conference. Indianapolis, IN, 2014. pdf

Schar, M. F., S.D. Sheppard, S. Brunhaver, M. Cuson, and M. M. Grau. “Bending Moments to Business Models: Integrating an Entrepreneurship Case Study as Part of Core Mechanical Engineering Curriculum.” In 120th ASEE Annual Conference. Atlanta, GA, 2013. pdf

SBL Materials

Materials ML Truck ML Deck b-cycle Baby Buffalo Yosemite Bridge
Scenario Scenario Scenario Scenario TBD ‎Scenario
Worksheet Worksheet Worksheet Worksheet TBD ‎Report Template
Homework Homework Homework Homework TBD NA
Lab Video Video Video Video TBD Video
Scenario Video Video Video TBD TBD TBD
Other Tools . Tool Tool TBD Instructions
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