Creating an Integrated Curriculum for a STEM Discipline

Higgison, Douglas and Neighbour, Gareth B (2016). Creating an Integrated Curriculum for a STEM Discipline. In: New Perspective in Science Education, libreriauniversitaria, Florence, Italy, pp. 20–26.



Tertiary education in the UK for STEM subjects is facing a growing challenge to excite and motivate students with tangible and visible examples of the real life careers that they aspire to but which generally require budgets that are not available in a tertiary education environment. An excellent example is the Formula Student competition that is hugely popular in Universities all over the world but which, as a result of budget limitations, is not generally available to all students in all years of their course. At the same time as providing a stimulating and satisfying curriculum it is necessary to incorporate the key theories, disciplines, through appropriate processes and practices that are less exciting but equally necessary to a successful STEM career. These issues have been addressed at Oxford Brookes Universitiy by the department of Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences by developing an integrated first year curriculum that has at its core a design and build project for a low temperature gamma type Stirling Engine. Typically Engineering degrees require students to gain hands on experience of manufacturing processes, previously known as EA1, and this was achieved by making static components such as clamps, screwdrivers, toolboxes, cold chisels or similar. The new project requires each student to create a dynamic product that ensures the successful transfer of manufacturing skills and processes as well as feeding all other modules in the curriculum. The result is an integrated, but explicit, curriculum that is constructively aligned to both the assessment and the role of a professional engineer. This, in turn, engenders “deep learning” and enhances the student experience and sense of achievement. The project requires that the students work in a simulated business environment where they must create a company to manufacture, market and sell the product using a suitable business model. The feedback from students to staff so far has shown that the new curriculum has created an expression of enthusiasm and satisfaction for the whole course that surpasses anything previously experienced.

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