Everyday Examples in Engineering (E³s): Learn More


E³s are relevant and familiar to students.

“Making an immediate connection to something real or familiar often motivates students to be engaged in their own learning because they are able to relate well with the object that embodies the phenomenon they are attempting to learn” (1).

Creating interest and enthusiasm for engineering early on in the undergraduate curriculum is essential to students’ willingness to persist and remain in engineering majors. Using examples that are familiar to students enhances the likelihood that they will be interested in and better retain the information they learn. Authentic tasks that are intrinsically motivating will be most engaging.  Students will continue a course of study if the work involves subjects and activities that interest them.

E³s are examples that demonstrate a concept, based on objects and ideas with which students are familiar.  E³s, like exploding coke cans, musical instruments, salt-water taffy, bicycles, or avalanches are more engaging to students than such typical examples as I beams and boiler pipes.  Real-world industry examples may also be more motivating and intriguing to students than abstract problems. ENGAGE has developed numerous E³s  for first and second year engineering courses as well as E³s video demonstrations.

 (E³s Research Brief).

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E³s highlight simple and complex ways that engineers help society.

Differences in how women and men perceive and value the role of technology in society are well documented. Women often emphasize the social function of technology over the technology itself. This includes the use of technology to enhance social networks, for communication and collaboration, and to improve quality of life. This holistic approach to solving problems includes an emphasis on both contextual and technical factors. Women often report they are attracted to engineering because of their desire to help people and society. 

Engineering curricula need to take this perspective into consideration when aiming to attract and retain students, particularly female students. This is especially important with critical foundation topics covered in first and second year engineering courses. In one study, introducing everyday applications in courses resulted in students reporting greater interest and more learning. Students assigned a greater value to these courses than those using traditional examples. Students also rated faculty more favorably in their evaluations when everyday examples were used.

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E³s increase student engagement and retention of engineering and computer science students.

Creating or reinforcing existing interest and enthusiasm for engineering early on in the undergraduate curriculum is essential to students' willingness to persist in engineering majors.  As studies have indicated, using examples that are familiar to students can make a difference.  Familiarity provides students with both a level of comfort and some basic intuitive understanding that they can apply to learning an engineering or science concept.   E³s enhance the likelihood that students will be interested in and will better retain the information they learn (2). Students are also more likely to continue a course of study if the work involves subjects and activities that interest them (3).

Making an immediate connection to something real or familiar often motivates students to be engaged in their own learning because they are able to relate to the object that embodies the phenomenon they are attempting to learn (5).  Real world tasks that are intrinsically motivating are most engaging (4).   

The use of E³s in class lectures often produces an immediate, positive response from students.   E³s also make students more responsive and interactive during course lectures. Using E³s is good for students but it also has benefits for instructors. In one study (5), when instructors included E³s in a course, they received significantly higher student ratings for overall course quality and for teaching effectiveness than they did when teaching the same course without E³s.

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E³s can be used in large classes.

E³s work especially well in large classes as they capture students’ interest and keep them engaged in the lecture.  Student-faculty interactions in large classes are also increased because working through the everyday examples in class can help make an instructor more accessible and approachable to students.

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E³s are effective among all groups of students.

Familiarity of the examples to the students in the class is the key to truly successful use of E³s. Targeting any one subgroup in a class would be a mistake; this could end up turning off other groups.  The benefit of using E³s is to engage the entire class regardless of their subgroup.  As an  example: Since it would be difficult to find a student of any race, gender, or social class who has not opened a bottle of soda, talking about torsional shear stress using a cap of a soda bottle works well.

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Works Cited

(1) Sheppard, S.D., Macatangay, K., Colby, A. & Sullivan, W.M. (2009). Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field. Jossey-Bass, pg. 52.

(2) Chipman, S., Marshall, S. & Scott, P. (1991). Content effects on word problem performance: A possible source of test bias? American Educational Research Journal. 28(4), 897-915.

(3) National Academy of Engineering. (2009). New Directions in Engineering Excellence: Keeping Students Engaged.

(4) Bain, K. (2004). What The Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press.

(5) Campbell, P.B., Patterson, E.A., Busch Vishniac, I. & Kibler, T. (2008). Integrating Applications in the Teaching of Fundamental Concepts. Proceedings of the 2008 Annual Conference and Exposition of the American Society for Engineering Education: AC 2008-499.

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