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Gearing Up for the Engineering Academic Challenge: How Everyone Wins

on Wed, 08/10/2016 - 17:33

By Marilynn Larkin

The Hollywood movie, “The Martian,” opens with a dust storm. How long do such dust storms usually last?

As an R&D engineer with Autodesk, you are developing a CAD system to algorithmically optimize mechanical performance of a 3D-printed metal-lattice structure? Which machine learning technique best avoids the problem of deception?

These are just two examples of the real-world questions thousands of engineering students from hundreds of institutions around the world will face in the upcoming Knovel/Engineering Village

Academic Challenge (EAC). The answers are in multiple-choice format, and each contains a hint. That should make it a bit easier for participants to come up with solutions after delving into the databases.

The five-week challenge is no slouch. Designed by a team of engineering students at Drexel University in Pennsylvania with guidance from Liaison Librarian Jay Bhatt, the  questions are cross-disciplinary, theme-based, and deep enough to compel participants to dig into every important feature of the databases. The aim, according to Dr. Antonios Kontsos, director of Drexel’s Theoretical and Applied Mechanics Group, is to improve participants’ information literacy and build engagement.

Gaming is the closest analogy to how students learn today. The traditional model of teaching, where we require students to sit in a chair for two or three hours at a time, bears no resemblance to what students do in daily life,” Dr. Kontsos told me in an interview. “Right now, my three-year-old nephew learns through an app on an iPad or on a tablet PC — and that’s also the case for teenagers. Gaming adds an element of interactive and personalized exploration of the material, compared to a generic lecture by someone who may be much older and not really in tune with modern technology.”

Daniel Christe, Drexel engineering student, Innovation Advisor to Elsevier’s Academic Engineering Solutions Library Advisory Board, and a driving force behind the EAC, explained, “Today’s students are digital natives—we’ve grown up playing games and know what true engagement feels like. One statistic that’s often cited is that by the age of 21, in a game-heavy culture, an individual will have 10,000 hours of gaming under his/her belt. What’s interesting to me is that this is the same number — 10,000 hours — that best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell stated a person needs to practice to master a field.”

“We learn a game by trial and error, by poking and prodding the environment to infer what we need to be successful in that space,” Christe added. “That makes for a much more engaging learning experience.”

The small group of engineering students who volunteered to work with Bhatt in advance of the challenge are also engaged in learning. “They’re learning how to work together as a team, and by designing the questions, they’re learning how to apply what they learned through Knovel and

Engineering Village,” Bhatt said.

Sharon Maria Esposo-Betan, head librarian at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Engineering Libraries, provided insights into the excitement generated by last year’s challenge. To encourage participation, the library publicized the event in social media and on its website. In addition, “Every week, throughout the course of the challenge, the library announced the names of students who qualified as weekly winners, as well as the university’s ranking among other institutions,” she said.

“During the second week, Jesus Joshua Bleza, an undergraduate computer science student, became a perfect scorer and won a US$100 Amazon gift card,” Esposo-Betan noted. “This was the start of a more exciting challenge, as it caused more participants to be interested.” By the end of the challenge, 24 UP engineering students had become weekly winners, while one, Ephraim Madanguit, was among the top-10 highest scorers worldwide, and became a member of the “elite nine” — participants who garnered a perfect score in all five weeks.

The 2016 EAC, which will be held in October, will likely generate even greater global and individual engagement because of the expanded scope. Pre-registration is currently open for engineering faculty and librarians who subscribe to either or both Knovel and Engineering Village.

Related Resources:

White Paper: A Game-based Learning Approach to Information Literacy


Video: Jay Bhatt and Daniel Christe speak about their experience with the Engineering Academic Challenge




Marilynn Larkin (@MarilynnL) is an award-winning science writer and editor who develops content for medical, scientific and consumer audiences. She was a contributing editor to The Lancet and its affiliated medical journals for more than 10 years and a regular contributor to the New York Academy of Sciences' publications and Reuters Health's professional newsfeed. She also launched and served as editor of Caring for the Ages, an official publication of the American Medical Directors Association. Larkin's articles also have appeared in Consumer Reports, Vogue, Woman's Day and many other consumer publications, and she is the author of five consumer health books.

As a consultant on postural awareness and confidence building, Larkin has presented to corporations and nonprofits and at regional and national meetings of, among others, the American Society on Aging and National Council on Aging, the American College of Sports Medicine, and New Jersey Dietetic Association.