In support of the digital transformation of our programs, simulation assignments are embedded in undergraduate fluid mechanics and heat transfer lecture-based courses, as well as in the Computational Engineering technical electives. Each course integrates simulations, application building, and inquiry-based learning (IBL) with ten assignments performed outside the class and documented in technical reports. FEA and CFD tools are employed to teach thermo-fluids, and in turn, course material is used to teach CFD and FEA. This new, high-impact practice facilitates a deeper understanding of theoretical concepts, exposes students to modern engineering tools, and develops students’ research capacity while the ‘lecture’ time is dedicated for the fundamental theoretical topics only.

The main goal of this study was to expand on the implementation of simulations and IBL in undergraduate thermo-fluids courses and create a template to do so in other topical threads. This was accomplished by: (1) strategically balancing step-by-step instructions supporting skill-building, with inquiry-based tasks guiding discovery process and developing higher order thinking skills; (2) providing clear and detailed grading criteria guiding students both in the process of gaining skills and performing IBL; (3) designing strategies for the assessment of student work that are easily transported across the curriculum; and (4) assessing students’ understanding and the effect of the overall digital transformation effort based on quantitative and qualitative data indicative of the achievement of learning outcomes.

This study builds on the authors’ previously reported work in the area of simulations and IBL that covered individual courses as well as course sequences. While quantitative data includes assessment of students’ understanding and confidence in comprehension of select concepts using grades, student surveys, and course evaluations, the impact of the described approach is illustrated with qualitative data including several examples of student work and its influence on their professional development.

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