June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
Computers in Education
11.547.1 - 11.547.16
Engineering a Nationwide Engineering Design Contest
This paper concerns problems solved and lessons learned while conducting the West Point Bridge Design Contest,1 with a focus on the design of technology support and operations behind the scenes. The contest is a nationwide, Internet-based competition for teams of one or two students, age 13 through grade 12, culminating in a final round with large cash prizes. In 2006 the contest is in its fifth year. We have previously reported it as a means of engineering outreach.2 This work, on the other hand, is technical, concerning the engineering behind the contest that allows it to be run by a half-time administrator and two college faculty members working in their spare time. The design has successfully dealt with challenges including large service demand fluctuations, tied contest entries, participation by ineligible persons “masquerading” as true contestants, hackers, an extortionist, hardware failure, Internet outages, an artificially intelligent bridge optimizer, and other interesting tribulations, all of which were managed without mishap. Hence the goal of this paper is to pass on information useful to anyone contemplating related work, where similar occurrences are likely.
The intent of this paper is to document our experience in designing and operating the West Point Bridge Design Contest (WPBDC), a nationwide Internet-based competition that has involved some 70,000 K-12 students over a five-year period. Careful design of the contest rules, the supporting technology, and the roles of support personnel has produced an effective and efficient operation. The original goals for the contest have been met. Moreover, two college faculty members working in their spare time plus a half-time coordinator have administered the contest with only modest additional institutional support and no serious mishap. Accordingly, we will discuss our design methodology, some particular design solutions, and the roles of support personnel that have evolved over time. While these are necessarily tailored to the unique goals and constraints of the WPBDC, many are likely to transfer well and therefore to benefit other, related efforts. We also provide some anecdotes to give the flavor of unexpected challenges that inevitably arose during contest operations and how the contest’s design allowed them to be met.
The overarching goal of the WPBDC is to increase awareness of and interest in engineering among a large, diverse population of middle and high school students. As described in our earlier work,2 its motivation is to attract young students of the United States to careers in engineering, math, and science in order to mitigate projected national shortfalls in the future. This leads to more specific goals, which are that each contestant should: • Learn about engineering through a realistic, hands-on problem-solving experience. • Learn about the engineering design process—the application of math, science, and technology to create devices and systems that meet human needs. • Learn about truss bridges and how they work. • Learn how engineers use the computer as a problem-solving tool. • Have some fun pitting individual problem-solving skills against those of other virtual bridge designers worldwide.
Ressler, E., & Ressler, S., & Bale, C. (2006, June), Engineering A Nationwide Engineering Design Contest Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. https://peer.asee.org/1392
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