An Active Learning Environment in an Integrated Industrial Engineering Curriculum (Management Project)

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We are developing a  new learning environment that supports a suite of interrelated modules based on real-world scenarios. The primary goals of the project are to integrate industrial engineering courses, improve students’ information technology skills, and enhance students’ problem solving skills.

In particular, metacognitive abilities will be strengthened as students apply domain knowledge, data, methods and software tools while monitoring their own solution processes. This paper presents the design of two modules that have been developed.


To help achieve the goals outlined above, we have developed an electronic learning portal (ELP) which: (1) provides scenario specific information based on student-initiated requests, (2) structures the problem solving process, (3) collects information on cognitive processes, (4) collects work in multiple formats from each student team, and (5) provides feedback to teams on their progress.

Each of the modules developed has the following problem solving stages:

Objective: Students specify what they are trying to achieve before they begin the
solution process. A justification of the objective is also required.
Plan and Analysis: Teams construct plans for solving a problem consisting of a set
of actions based on the module knowledge domain. The team must provide justification
for each action in the plan.
Solution: After completing the plan, the solution is submitted along with a justification
Performance: A scenario specific simulation model provides a representation of
the system under the solution parameters selected by the team. Performance measures for the system are provided at pre-defined time periods.


The second module developed was for the senior level manufacturing systems engineering class. As with the engineering economy module, this module is also based  on actual manufacturing system problems of a local manufacturer.

This company faced a production bottleneck caused by the limited capacity of its turret punch press  operation used to cut the steel parts from the sheet stock. The project description gave an overview of the company, and the production problems it was facing.

Students first wrote a concise objective statement for their work that included quantifiable evaluation  measures. During the ‘plan and analysis’ stage, the students researched a variety of sheet metal cutting processes (e.g., turret punch press, die  stamping, laser).

While some of these alternatives can be quickly eliminated, others require further analysis. Students need to provide justification of any processes that were eliminated, based on many factors such as, equipment and tooling costs, cutting speed, labor requirements.

During this initial use of  the module, students were provided with sample outputs of the actual parts laid out on a sheet using SigmaNest nesting software. Starting in  the Fall 2003, students will be required to access a database of CAD files, and run  the nesting software themselves to calculate potential yield for the different processes.

Students will also gain more IT experience by querying a database for production history, bill of  materials, process plans, and quality information needed for their analysis.


Our initial experience with the ELP indicates that IT can be used effectively to create opportunities for students to collaboratively solve realistic engineering problems, thereby promoting deeper learning and higher order thinking. Students benefit from the integration of material from a variety of industrial engineering courses. Methods for formative assessment and understanding the role of metacognition in engineering problem solving require further investigation.

Source: Iowa State University
Authors: Frank Peters | John K. Jackman | Sarah M. Ryan | Sigurdur Olafsson

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