Transitioning from high school to university is tough, but doing so in a year where campus was effectively shut down due to a global pandemic is especially tough. Isolation from peers, dissociation with a campus they may have never even visited, and limitations on the amount and mode of live interactions with teachers all can take a toll on the intrinsically motivated first year student. But were some would see an obstacle, I saw an opportunity for my first year aerospace engineering cohort!
Many students enter the aerospace engineering field with dreams of being part of the growing space industry. I decided to use this dream as a way to motivate them through the challenges of remote working by comparing their educational journey with that of an elite astronaut on their way to Mars. Both journeys would have their share of physical isolation, technical challenges, and require a problem-solving rather than problem-complaining spirit. They would require the students to show that remote working was in their blood!
To motivate students to complete suggested practiceproblems, I employed a technique I used myself during my own studies. I used to dream up elaborate backstories behind the problems I was working on to give solving them a sense of purpose and urgency. The mission to Mars motive of the course provided the perfect opportunity to do this for my own students, and with the power of some simple animation tools, I created the Space Engineer! Take a look for yourself.
For an overview of the various elements of the mission to Mars analogy I used in my course, please take a look at the short 7 minute pitch of the project I gave at the SEFI 2021 conference focused on online and blended education. It was a wonderful opportunity to share my crazy ideas with the engineering education community within Europe.