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Enhancing the quality of senior design projects: The introduction of a coordinated sequence of design courses to prepare students for the capstone experience in electrical engineering

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Design Pedagogy and Curriculum 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.540.1 - 23.540.12



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Paper Authors


Timothy F. Wheeler Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Timothy F. Wheeler is an assistant professor of Electrical Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University. He earned an Artium Baccalaureus degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Princeton University in 1975. After a decade as a crab fisherman in Alaska, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University (1989) and a Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction from Penn State University (2010). He is course coordinator for the Senior Capstone Design program. He has directed project-based programs for undergraduates with an interest in space-related fields as well as service-learning programs for those interested in community service.

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Mary Lynn Brannon Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Enhancing the quality of senior design projects: The introduction of a coordinated sequence of design courses to prepare students for the capstone experienceGeneral dissatisfaction with the quality of capstone projects led the UndergraduateCurriculum Committee (UCC) in the Electrical Engineering Department at a large land grantuniversity to consider how the capstone program might be enhanced. One conclusion was thatthe students might perform better if they were prepared with certain design skills and practicewith the engineering design process before they reached the capstone project. As a result, theone-semester senior capstone design course has been replaced with a sequence of designcourses leading to the senior project. The courses in the sequence include “Design Tools” forsophomores, “The Design Process” for juniors, and the “Senior Capstone Design” class itself.The design sequence was approved by the university and has been included in the corecurriculum beginning in the fall semester of 2012.The goals for this re-definition of the capstone program included increasing the breadth ofopportunities for the seniors – encouraging them to seek experience in an area of professionalinterest -- while maintaining compliance with ABET objectives. In addition, there was adesire to breach the wall that had formed between graduate and undergraduate programs andto increase professionalism training.Assessment measures, embedded throughout the sequence, will validate the effectiveness ofthe curriculum changes and encourage the continued evolution of the program. Since theytrack a student’s progress from the sophomore course through the capstone experience, theassessments will increase the coordination among the constituent courses and providecoherence to the sequence. The assessment plan includes several elements:  A questionnaire (administered four times) will measure changes in self-efficacy, identity with the major and discipline-specific skills;  An e-portfolio to be assembled by the students throughout the sequence forms a longitudinal record of student growth;  Focus groups will target the students’ experience of the sequence itself, their confidence level and preparedness for conducting a capstone project at particular points along the way; and  An evaluation of the capstone projects themselves will provide evidence that the new approach has met the goals set by the UCC.In this paper, we present an overview of the learning objectives of the component courses ofthe sequence and show how they will prepare students for an enhanced capstone experience.We focus particularly on the junior-level writing intensive course and show how it supportsthe notion of the sequence as a coherent element in the curriculum. We discuss theassessment plan for the sequence and describe the role of assessment in binding the sequencetogether and promoting coordination among the constituent elements by maintaining a firmfocus on the teaching objectives.

Wheeler, T. F., & Brannon, M. L. (2013, June), Enhancing the quality of senior design projects: The introduction of a coordinated sequence of design courses to prepare students for the capstone experience in electrical engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19554

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