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Adding a “Design Thread” to Electrical and Computer Engineering Degree Programs: Motivation, Implementation, and Evaluation

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Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Design Across Curriculum 1

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count

25

DOI

10.18260/1-2--36652

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/36652

Download Count

48

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Paper Authors

biography

Alan Cheville Bucknell University

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Alan Cheville studied optoelectronics and ultrafast optics at Rice University, followed by 14 years as a faculty member at Oklahoma State University working on terahertz frequencies and engineering education. While at Oklahoma State, he developed courses in photonics and engineering design. After serving for two and a half years as a program director in engineering education at the National Science Foundation, he took a chair position in electrical engineering at Bucknell University. He is currently interested in engineering design education, engineering education policy, and the philosophy of engineering education.

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biography

Michael S. Thompson Bucknell University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-3444-8503

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"Stu" is an associate professor in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Bucknell University, in Lewisburg, PA. While his teaching responsibilities typically include digital design, computer-related electives, and senior design, his focus in the classroom is to ignite passion in his students for engineering and design through his own enthusiasm, open-ended student-selected projects, and connecting engineering to the world around them. He spends a great deal of time looking for ways to break out of the traditional engineering mold and to make engineering more broadly accessible to students. His research interest is the application of mobile computing to interesting, human-focused problems. He holds three degrees in computer engineering including graduate degrees from Virginia Tech and an undergraduate degree from NC State University.

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Stewart Thomas Bucknell University

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Stewart Thomas is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He received the B.S. and M.Eng. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Louisville in Louisville, KY. and the Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He is a member of ASEE and IEEE.

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Abstract

This article details the multi-year process of adding a “design thread” to our department’s electrical and computer engineering curricula. We use the conception of a “thread” to mean a sequence of courses that extend unbroken across each year of the undergraduate curriculum. The design thread includes a project-based introduction to the discipline course in the first year, a course in the second year focusing on measurement and fabrication, a course in the third year to frame technical problems in societal challenges, and culminates with our two-semester, client-driven fourth-year capstone design sequence. The impetus to create a design thread arose from preparation for an ABET visit where we identified a need for more “systems thinking” within the curriculum, particularly system decomposition and modularity; difficulty in having students make engineering evaluations of systems based on data; and students’ difficulty transferring skills in testing, measurement, and evaluation from in-class lab scenarios to more independent work on projects. We also noted that when working in teams, students operated more collectively than collaboratively. In other words, rather than using task division and specialization to carry out larger projects, students addressed all problems collectively as a group. This paper discusses the process through which faculty developed a shared conception of design to enable coherent changes to courses in the four year sequence and the political and practical compromises needed to create the design thread. To develop a shared conception of design faculty explored several frameworks that emphasized multiple aspects of design. Course changes based on elements of these frameworks included introducing design representations such as block diagrams to promote systems thinking in the first year and consistently utilizing representations throughout the remainder of the four year sequence. Emphasizing modularity through representations also enabled introducing aspects of collaborative teamwork. While students are introduced broadly to elements of the design framework in their first year, later years emphasize particular aspects. The second year course focuses on skills in fabrication and performance measurement while the third year course emphasizes problem context and users, in an iterative design process. The client-based senior capstone experience integrates all seven aspects of our framework. On the political and organizational side implementing the design thread required major content changes in the department’s introductory course, and freeing up six credit-hour equivalents, one and a half courses, in the curriculum. The paper discusses how the ABET process enabled these discussions to occur, other curricular changes needed to enable the design thread to be implemented, and methods which enabled the two degree programs to align faculty motivation, distribute the workload, and understand the impact the curricular changes had on student learning.

Cheville, A., & Thompson, M. S., & Thomas, S. (2021, July), Adding a “Design Thread” to Electrical and Computer Engineering Degree Programs: Motivation, Implementation, and Evaluation Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36652

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