June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
24.488.1 - 24.488.11
Engaging Computer Engineering Freshmen through a Voluntary Competitive Team Project with MentoringMany freshman computer engineering students need hands-on activity in addition to classroominstruction to sustain their interest and motivation in their chosen discipline. Whereas a requiredcourse with lab had typically filled this need in spring, last spring we offered our freshmen azero-credit freshman project with one scheduled contact hour per week and with no grade.Unlike the required course with lab where students learned through traditional instruction forassessment by homework, quizzes, exams, and lab demonstrations, participation in the freshmanproject was voluntary, and students learned primarily through mentoring for assessment in a finalcompetition.The project consisted of incorporating a commercial off-the-shelf radio controlled (RC) car witha provided microcontroller, motor driver circuitry, and line sensors to making it travel a track byfollowing a line in the center to compete for the best time. Project execution consisted of fourphases: planning, instruction, design, and competition. For planning before spring, upper-classstudents were recruited to serve as mentors, and they investigated potential microcontroller andRC platforms. By developing prototypes, the mentors knew first-hand the design issues andbecame prepared to lead the freshman teams.Concurrent with a brief traditional classroom instruction phase, accounting for about the firstthird of spring when students were presented information in a traditional classroom setting on themicrocontroller platform, motor actuation, and sensors, each student was surveyed to find anypreferences regarding specific classmates for the same team and to assess aptitude forparticipation in the project, (e.g., levels of interest, availability, and commitment), and studentswere assigned to teams of five or six students, based on the survey results. Next, mentors andequipment were allocated to teams, and each team began its design with the guidance of amentor. Finally, teams competed in an exhibition as part of a campus-wide festival. Thecompetition consisted of elimination rounds of round-robin matches of pairs of teams with twosymmetric tracks, where each car ran once on each track within a round and where each car ranin two matches. In the early rounds, scoring was by finish order, and in the final rounds scoringwas by finish time.Learning through mentoring as well as independent and cooperative learning developed a senseof community within each team. Furthermore, the common experience of taking somethingfamiliar and applying newly learned computer engineering skills to produce something tangiblethat actually “works” made the discipline more relevant to the freshmen. In addition, theylearned about working in engineering teams.Every team entered a working car in the competition, and 68% of students attended thecompetition. At the start of spring, about four percent of students dropped the course with timecommitment concerns, and roughly the same percentage withdrew during the quarter becausethey had decided to switch majors. Active participation during scheduled class time wasgenerally over 70% each week. These results suggest that a voluntary activity with organizedsupport and structure can be an effective mechanism to engage a majority of the freshman class.
Melton, R. W., & Yang, S. J., & Becker-Gomez, A. (2014, June), Engaging Computer Engineering Freshmen through a Voluntary Competitive Team Project with Mentoring Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20379
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