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A Semi Automatic Approach For Project Assignment In A Capstone Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Teams and Teamwork in Design II

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.99.1 - 13.99.11



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Paper Authors


Mark Chang Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Mark L. Chang is an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

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Allen Downey Olin College of Engineering

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Allen Downey is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Semi-Automatic Approach for Project Assignment in a Capstone Course


This paper presents a semi-automatic approach to assigning students to project teams for a year-long, industry-sponsored senior capstone course. Successful assignment requires knowl- edge of at least individual project requirements, student skills, student personalities, and student project preferences. This mix of hard skills, soft skills, and interpersonal impres- sions requires human involvement to produce a high-quality assignment. The importance of faculty input often requires that the assignment process be labor- and time-intensive.

Our approach attempts to reduce the time required to perform this assignment by selectively automating parts of the task flow. An automated search uses a randomized greedy algorithm combined with local optimizations to explore a large space of solutions. Candidate “good” solutions are then presented to capstone faculty. Criteria such as skill set, student capability, and personality compatibility are applied by human evaluators to reduce the candidate solution set. These candidate solutions are then distributed to small groups of faculty to look for improvements using system-generated tables of options.

This approach leverages automation at appropriate stages while keeping the experts—the faculty—involved in the selection process. Our initial implementation has reduced the time needed to select an allocation by about a factor of three over previous manual approaches.


As engineering programs at colleges and universities strive to make pedagogical reinventions, faculty are experimenting with active learning methods to bring authentic engineering expe- riences into the classroom. A prominent feature of many project-based learning approaches is the use of student teams to solve complex problems. One of the significant challenges is therefore the assignment of students to teams.

In an experience such as a final-year senior engineering capstone, the administrative burden of team formation is often exacerbated by the needs of a more complex, department- or college-wide capstone program. Issues may include larger teams, interdisciplinary needs of projects, satisfying external constituencies, budgeting, and more. These higher stakes make a high-quality team selection process even more important.

In this paper we present a semi-automatic approach for placing students onto project teams. The chief goals of using this approach are to save personnel time and increase the level of satisfaction for all users. The users for our system include students, faculty, and the capstone program.

The Team Formation Problem

The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering requires all students to complete a two-semester,

Chang, M., & Downey, A. (2008, June), A Semi Automatic Approach For Project Assignment In A Capstone Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4116

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