Experiential Engineering: An Innovative Practice

Experiential learning is an effective way to impart knowledge and develop competencies in every field of knowledge but it is essential in the field of engineering. Students retain and remember theoretical knowledge more easily when it is backed up with projects, experiences or actual practices.

By Esmeralda Uribe Lam euribelam@itesm.mx, Jorge Peñalva Soto jpenalvas@itesm.mx, Beatriz Murrieta Cortés bmurriet@itesm.mx, Cecilia Treviño Quintanilla cdtrevino@itesm.mx and Víctor Romero Muñoz vromero@itesm.mx

Experiential learning is an effective way to impart knowledge and develop competencies in every field of knowledge but it is essential in the field of engineering. Students retain and remember theoretical knowledge more easily when it is backed up with projects, experiences or actual practices.

As engineering professors, we have identified various opportunities to enhance our students’ learning. If you are a teacher in this field of knowledge, consider the following questionnaire:

  • Have you noticed that when your students carry out a project that involves creating a prototype for which they have to use tools and equipment, they spend most of the time learning how to use them and not on the project itself?
  • Do you know how much material and tools end up in the trash before the prototype is operational and deliverable?
  • Can you give an estimate of how much reworking your students do on their projects?

When professors of Tec de Monterrey’s mechanics and industrial school answered these questions, we realized that the students need to learn how to use the tools, laboratory equipment, and machines more effectively so that their project development experience is more productive.

In order to be more productive is their projects, it is necessary for students to learn in an effective way.

“Practice makes perfect,” so the saying goes. However, in order to practice on a given piece of laboratory equipment or workshop, it’s necessary to have an instructor who is constantly giving the students examples and explanations on how to handle specific equipment.

This was not that hard a few years ago because we had relatively few pieces of equipment that were very simple to manipulate. At present we have complex equipment that is controlled through several monitors with dozens of virtual buttons. An instructor who has spent many hours handling the equipment may navigate easily among that 'sea of buttons' but not the students.

Our students have resorted to recording the sessions with their cell phones and, although we applaud this initiative, we are aware that the quality and effectiveness of these videos is limited.

The instructor typically spends one or two hours explaining and demonstrating how the equipment works and provides the students with summarized procedure instructions, hoping this will be enough for them to learn. However, the results we have observed are:

  1. Students practice very little
  2. Students ask for instructions repeatedly.
  3. Instructors end up doing what the students should be doing (giving the students step-by-step instructions).
  4. Students forgot nearly all their ‘skills’ by the following semester.

In order to reduce the effect of these situations and generate long-lasting, comprehensive learning in our students, we have developed, through the "Experiential Engineering” NOVUS project, a teaching methodology based on flexible and experiential learning to develop basic competencies associated with engineering. The methodology consists of teaching through sequential modules of learning, innovative electronic resources, and practical and virtual experiences.

This methodology proposes a series of learning modules in which each student has the resources to advance at their own pace, in addition to quick and efficacious assessments that indicate they can go on to the more advanced practical modules. 

Our proposal is a teaching methodology that uses sequential modules of learning, innovative electronic resources and practical and virtual experiences.

The intention of this teaching methodology is to develop technical competencies to strengthen theoretical knowledge, support students to manage their learning, and develop skills to improve the quality of the academic projects.

This innovation is not directly linked to any subject nor is it a project for a single class. It is, rather, a parallel learning that the students can attain while at the Tec de Monterrey and through which they develop competencies that will be useful for their academic projects and professional life. The educational innovation of this proposal is teaching and preparation outside the classroom, with virtual activities and experiential practices that enhance the students’ capacity to manage their own learning, in addition to the generation and evaluation of basic competencies.

The project is in the implementation process as a comprehensive methodology. Pilot tests have been conducted in some of the CIMA (Center of Advanced Innovation and Manufacturing) of the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Querétaro. We have obtained excellent results and achieved the efficient use of the equipment and machines as well as a more personalized teaching. An estimated 70 to 100 students per semester were served with the traditional method, while with experiential engineering up to 200 students have been serve per week with workshops and 7-member team practices.

We believe this project enables us to approach important areas of opportunity in our work as teachers and as an institution, but it’s greatest value is the motivation and the experience that our students will take with them throughout their professional career. By managing their own learning, the future professionals develop valuable competencies for their professional life.


About the Authors

Esmeralda Uribe Lam is a professor at the school of Mechanics and Industry of the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Querétaro. She is a Mechatronics Engineer and a Doctor in Engineering Sciences. Lately she has focused her research on biodegradable compounds and on the production of aluminum oxide nanofilms to protect metals.

Jorge Peñalva is director of the Mechanical Administrative Engineer major of the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Querétaro. He is a mechanical engineer with a Master’s Degree in Science. He has experience in the aeronautics and design fields.

Beatriz Murrieta is director of the Industrial Engineering Department of the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Querétaro. She has a Doctorate in the field of Industrial Engineering. Her research in recent years has focused on logistics and optimization.

Cecilia Treviño is a professor in the department of Mechanics at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Querétaro. She is a chemical engineer and Doctor in Engineering Sciences. Lately, her research has focused on plastics.

Víctor Romero is director of the Center of Advanced Innovation and Manufacturing at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Querétaro. His is a mechanical engineer with a Master’s Degree in Science. He has extensive experience in the area of manufacturing and design.