Asee peer logo

Designing Technology for Resource-Constrained Environments: A Multidisciplinary Capstone Sequence

Download Paper |


2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Technical Session

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.447.1 - 22.447.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Ruth E. Anderson University of Washington

visit author page

Ruth Anderson is a lecturer in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle.

visit author page

author page

Beth Kolko University of Washington

Download Paper |


Designing Technology for Resource-Constrained Environments: a Multi-Disciplinary Capstone SequenceIn this paper we describe a year-long multi-disciplinary capstone experience where studentsengaged in designing and building technology to address problems faced by populations in localand remote resource-constrained environments. Resource-constrained environments provideunique infrastructure, technical, and social constraints that demand innovative designapproaches.In fall 2009, students from multiple departments participated in a 1-credit seminar where theyread and discussed papers about projects in developing countries as well as research papers aboutresource-constrained communities within developed countries (i.e., low-income communities,low bandwidth environments). The purpose of this quarter was to become familiar with uniqueconstraints when designing for resource constrained environments (e.g. How do you design forcultures where people are unfamiliar with or afraid of technology, or for environments wherepower and network connectivity are scarce and expensive?).Winter quarter was a multi-disciplinary group project design studio. Students from a variety ofmajors (Human-Centered Design, Psychology, Informatics) enrolled in a 5 credit HumanComputer Interaction (HCI) course and were partnered with Computer Science & Engineering(CSE) students registered for a 2 credit design studio. Project groups were organized aroundstudent interests, and each group consisted of both CSE and HCI students. Students from theHCI course were responsible for doing needs analysis through fieldwork, literature searches, andsocial impact analyses to lay project groundwork. HCI students did fieldwork in a variety ofdomains and scenarios including: interviews with doctors and medical students at local medicalclinics, observations of food bank operations and elementary school classrooms, web surveys ofpotential carpoolers, and email surveys of Ugandan midwives. CSE students were responsiblefor coming up with initial prototypes for the technology and discussing technical specificationswith the group. Throughout the course, student groups gave presentations to the class, and at theend of the quarter a poster fair and demo session was held for the general public.In spring quarter, CSE students enrolled in a 5 credit capstone and were partnered with HCIstudents who signed up for two credits. In this quarter, the CSE students built robust prototypeimplementations of the designs that had been developed in winter and the HCI students helpedevaluate the prototype through user testing. Throughout the quarter, student groups frequentlypresented their ideas to the class and to panels of experts in formal presentations, poster sessions,and written reports.The course ultimately brought together interdisciplinary teams of students who conductedfieldwork with potential user populations, designed a technology to solve a community-basedproblem, implemented a solution, and evaluated that solution. Students worked on projects withreal-world impact and gained valuable experience with multi-disciplinary design and multi-disciplinary team work. Both sides gained a greater appreciation of the difficulties faced by theirpeers – that fieldwork and software development are both often unpredictable and challenging. Inthis paper we describe the class format, sample projects, and course outcomes based on studentprojects and survey responses. The course sequence is currently being offered for a second time.

Anderson, R. E., & Kolko, B. (2011, June), Designing Technology for Resource-Constrained Environments: A Multidisciplinary Capstone Sequence Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17728

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015