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Challenges in a Freshman General Education Class

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Design Across the Curriculum 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Michelle Maher University of Missouri-Kansas City

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Dr. Michelle Maher explores student research, teaching, and disciplinary writing skill development and higher education access and equity issues.

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Kathleen O'Shea University of Missouri-Kansas City


Jacob M. Marszalek University of Missouri-Kansas City

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Education: Dr. Marszalek received his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, Statistics and Measurement at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2006.

Teaching: Dr. Marszalek teaches undergraduate quantitative statistics and graduate courses in Statistical Methods, Structural Equation Modeling, Principles and Methods of Research, Latent Trait and Multilevel Modeling ad Development and Evaluation of Assessment Tools.

Research: Dr. Marszalek’s research interest is in translational methodology, motivational theories in psychology and education (e.g., flow, anxiety, reactance), educational and psychological measurement, social justice advocacy, evaluation of institutional/educational programs for minority outreach and support.

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Darran Cairns University of Missouri-Kansas City

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Darran is an Teaching Associate Professor in Civil and Mechanical Engineering at University of Missouri Kansas City

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Undergraduates’ introduction and orientation to the application of engineering to societal challenges can have long-term educational and professional implications. At our midsize urban research university, freshman and transfer students are provided this introduction and orientation through enrollment in a three-credit general education course, “Computing and Engineering in Society.” Traditionally, course learning outcomes have prioritized understanding how simple machines work, the scientific method, and technical communication development. Beginning in Fall of 2019, we offered a restructured version of this course to prioritize the pressing need for students (regardless of intended major) to recognize society’s challenges (as outlined by the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges for Engineering) and how engineering interfaces with society to them. We structured the course around the IDEO design process, instilling within students a deep need to keep humans at the center of every interface between computing and engineering and society.

In our full paper, we will describe how intended student learning outcomes were nourished, shaped, and achieved by innovative course activities, and how what we have learned from offering this redesigned course can inform similarly-intentioned courses on other campuses. Our intended student learning outcomes include students’ development of a rich and cognitively flexible understanding of the engineering design process in which humans are at the center; students’ reconceptualization of the term “engineer” that becomes more broadly inclusiveness and deeper in terms of its societal connections; and students’ increased recognition of the importance of collaboration to reach engineering goals. Highlighted course activities include (1) designing a full-sized chair from paper, (2) designing a survey to empathize with potential users of solutions to one of the NAE Grand Challenges, and (3) designing and building a prototype of a possible solution to a Grand Challenge. These activities and others used in the course were selected to underscore a learner-centered, learner-driven pedagogical approach.

To capture change over time in the trajectory of these learning outcomes, we have administered open-ended questionnaires to students at course initiation, midterm, and conclusion that will feature quantitative scales and open-ended questions about engineering identity, performance goal motivation, and growth mindset. We will also collect interview data at course end from a random subset of students who represent the various types of diversity among the enrolled students. Our course enrolls 190 students (61 female). 180 are freshman, while 10 are transfer students. 120 identify ‘computing’ and/or ‘engineering’ as their intended college major, while 70 identify other intended majors (e.g., example, example). This sample size is large to power our planned latent growth models, which will cross-validate the qualitative thematic analyses in this concurrent triangulation mixed-method design. Our findings are intended to reinvigorate discussion around best practices to introduce and orient undergraduates to the application of engineering to societal challenges.

Maher, M., & O'Shea, K., & Marszalek, J. M., & Cairns, D. (2020, June), Challenges in a Freshman General Education Class Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34268

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