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Designing Successful Design Projects

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Capstone Design Pedagogy I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.371.1 - 15.371.15



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Paper Authors

author page

Alan Cheville Oklahoma State University

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

Designing Successful Design Projects


The importance of design is increasing in undergraduate engineering programs. Design is seen by proponents as a vital element of learning engineering. Compared to courses which focus on engineering analysis, design courses emphasize application of a broad spectrum of knowledge in narrow contexts. The importance of design courses is magnified by their impact on students and their disproportionate importance for assessment and accreditation. One element of design courses, particularly capstone courses, that has received little attention is how to characterize and choose suitable design projects.

To better understand what aspects of design projects lead to successful capstone design experiences for students, six years of evaluation data on electrical engineering capstone design projects at a large, public research university were reviewed. Additionally, transcripts from four years of a capstone design course end-of-semester “after action review” by faculty, students, and teaching assistants were reviewed. From this work several characteristics of “successful” capstone projects emerged. While a definition of success is, of course, highly dependent on program specific outcomes, for this study success was defined as a project that was: judged by both students and faculty to have been completed successfully, allowed meaningful contributions by most students on a team, and satisfactorily met written and/or oral reporting requirements. Additionally, where available, comments from program graduates were used to identify successful projects.

The specifics of projects varied widely, however several characteristics shared by successful capstone design efforts were identified. One characteristic included projects that were able to be repeated, or iterated, several times during the semester in which the project was given. A second characteristic of successful projects were that they did not fall to either extreme of the technology readiness level (TRL). The third characteristic is that projects did not draw on knowledge beyond which students had been exposed to or outside the discipline. These results provide some guidance on relatively simple ways to improve outcomes in capstone courses.

Background: Capstone Design

Design as an activity is increasing in importance in undergraduate engineering programs both due to ABET criteria and an overall recognition that engineering needs to be more hands-on1. Supporters view design as a necessary aspect of learning engineering that plays a unique and important role in the engineering degree program. As a results design is being introduced across the curriculum from freshman courses to the traditional capstone programs. The importance of design, particularly capstone, courses arises both from their purported impact on students and because of their disproportionate role in assessment and accreditation in many program2.

Despite the importance of design courses to program outcomes, their format varies widely and outcomes are not standardized across programs. For the purposes of this paper design courses are classified broadly into two discrete but usually overlapping sets: design problem courses and

Cheville, A. (2010, June), Designing Successful Design Projects Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16783

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