Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Engineering (HMC)

Publication Date



Hands-on, project-based engineering education is alive and well. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that we are seeing fewer undergraduate engineering students who arrive on campus already knowing how to ‘use their hands’—having familiarity with tools and mechanical devices, knowing how to connect things, savvy about avoiding leaks in fluid systems, wary of stripping a screw thread or shearing a bolt head—the kinds of things that an archetypal car enthusiast would have learned in high school. For design-build-test project-based engineering educational experiences, having at least one car enthusiast has proven invaluable: more time can be spent on testing and re-designing, rather than getting bogged down in the initial selection of means to satisfy an engineering design function. Also, it seems that the design space can be expanded; students are aware of more ways to satisfy design functions, and less likely to eliminate potential designs due to ignorance of building techniques. Car-enthusiast skills also come in handy during the building process, rather than relying on inexperienced students who may be picking up tools for the first time. Why the decline in these do-it-yourself-ers? Evidence shows that fewer Millennials own and drive cars. This may be affecting their experiences with car maintenance. Millennial culture also includes a type of perfectionism that may be affecting their desire to use their hands, either in fixing things, or in traditional ways of building. The existence of on-board diagnostic computer interfaces is perceived to have an effect, though it is arguable. Many gadgets, especially electronic devices such as mobile phones, PDAs, and gaming systems, are designed and manufactured in ways that make them difficult to open up and repair, but new sites such as iFixit do provide teardowns and repair manuals. I will explore these issues, especially their implications on current undergraduate engineering pedagogy, present ‘practical work’ experiences from Canterbury and Imperial College, and suggest potential ways of improving beginning engineering students’ hands-on skills.

Rights Information

© 2013 American Society for Engineering Education