June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.266.1 - 14.266.14
Atypical Senior Capstone Projects: The Process is the Product
Abstract Senior capstone projects in Engineering and Technology disciplines teach students valuable skills in design, teamwork, project management and related skills. Almost always these learning objectives are achieved through student teams building a working prototype or simulation of a product or system. However there are other ways that students can exercise their technical design skills and participate in capstone projects to achieve substantive deliverables that do not result in a working product or system. Students building a working prototype product or system are operating in primarily in the product-oriented, phase of the complete system development life cycle. There are hidden assumptions in the design of capstone courses that encourage students to work in that phase. A student team can accomplish the learning objectives of a technical capstone project by following a clearly defined design and development process resulting in project deliverables that are not a working prototype. Recently, an Information Technology (IT) capstone student team at Brigham Young University selected a project that requires them to follow a systems analysis and design methodology to design and user-test information technologies that facilitate strong family relationships Ensuring that the team is developing the right solution becomes a significant project in itself, requiring a system development process as well as technical skills. The challenge of this capstone experience is framing the project in terms of the systems analysis and design process, rather than a product, as the deliverable of the class, while ensuring that the learning experience meets the course objectives. We report on challenges and successes of this direction, with suggestions of how this could lead to better capstone education. 1. Introduction A complete product or system development lifecycle covers far more than is covered in a typical capstone design course experience. Complete lifecycles include planning and analysis phases, build and test phases, implementation and maintenance phases among others. Some disciplines, such as industrial Design, focus on earlier stages of the design lifecycle, producing final “designs” which are often a set of drawings for a conceptual future product. Information Systems students with their strong business influence often complete projects that focus on analysis of user needs rather than production of a working system. Engineering and technology disciplines, including Information Technology, often have a more technical orientation. Very frequently capstone engineering and technology projects from engineering and technology disciplines are product-oriented, focusing on the build and test phases of development. This emphasis is reflected in several publications on engineering and technology capstone courses. Todd et al. indicate this in their comprehensive 1995 survey results1 by stating that “Projects … generally require the team to design and manufacture a system” and further state that different engineering departments have different expectations for their students, but that in general students are designing a product or system of simulation of one.
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