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From Pre-Defined to Open-Ended Projects: Evaluating First-Year Ability to Innovate and Problem Solve

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Wednesday Cornucopia (Educational Research)

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Kaylee A. Dunnigan NYU Tandon School of Engineering

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Kaylee Dunnigan is a third-year undergraduate student working towards her B.S. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. She is the deputy head of research and development for the Introduction to Engineering and Design at Tandon. She helps develop semester long design projects for students, hands-on labs, as well as mentor students throughout these projects. She has worked previously at Sandia National Labs Advanced Materials Labs and the University of New Mexico as a research intern. Currently she is a research assistant for the Modestino Group at NYU Tandon helping develop and optimize a new type of process system for Nylon 6,6. She is the President of the NYU chapter of Society of Advanced Materials Science and Process Engineering and is the composites lead for the NYU baja competition team.

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Jack Bringardner NYU Tandon School of Engineering Orcid 16x16

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Jack Bringardner is an Assistant Professor in the General Engineering Department and Civil Engineering Department at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. He teaches the First-Year Engineering Program course Introduction to Engineering and Design. He is also the Director of Vertically Integrated Projects at NYU. His Vertically Integrated Projects course is on Smart Cities Technology with a focus on transportation. His primary focus is developing curriculum, mentoring students, and engineering education research, particularly for project-based curriculum, first-year engineering, and transportation. He is active in the American Society for Engineering Education and is the Webmaster for the ASEE First-Year Programs Division and the First-Year Engineering Experience Conference. He is affiliated with the Transportation Engineering program in the NYU Civil and Urban Engineering Department, and is the Associate Director for Education and Workforce Development Initiatives for the Connected Cities for Smart Mobility Towards Resilient Transportation Tier I USDOT University Transportation Center. He is the advisor for NYU student chapter of the Institute for Transportation Engineers.

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Gunter W. Georgi NYU Tandon School of Engineering

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Gunter W. Georgi, a registered Professional Engineer, is an Industry Professor at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn, New York. Prof. Georgi is the course director for the Introduction to Engineering and Design course. He received his B.S. from Cooper Union and his M.S. and professional M.E. degrees from Columbia University. He has worked many years in the aerospace industry in design, analysis, and management functions. His most challenging task was the responsibility for the Thermal Mission Analysis of the Lunar Module from Project Apollo.

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This complete research paper describes a first-year engineering course that has increased the proportion of open-ended projects to predefined projects being offered. This course teaches 320 students per semester with multidisciplinary labs and hands-on projects as the center of the course. Pilots for these projects were offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 to about 15 students for Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 and about 30 students for the last two sessions. Positive feedback from students prompted further expansion, to 50 students, in Fall 2018 and a greater diversity of topics. There were three types of projects formulated based on the pilot sections: free-choice open-ended projects (free-choice OEP), prompt-based open-ended projects (prompt-based OEP), and predefined projects.

The free-choice OEPs allow students to propose a real-world problem they are interested in solving and develop a physical prototype throughout the semester. A more structured version of this project is the prompt-based OEP, where faculty, independent of their association with the course or within the course, provide prompts for students to develop ideas into working prototypes. The most structured projects are the predefined project choices which are projects with set goals and tasks. In Fall 2018, 13 groups participated in free-choice OEP projects, 2 groups in piloted prompt-based OEP projects, and the rest of the groups took part in predefined projects. The curriculum makes the students familiar with the engineering design process, computer-aided design (CAD), Arduino programming, prototyping, product development, and the integration of teamwork and project management.

This study examined the feedback from an end of the semester survey of 226 first-year students to evaluate their capabilities, preparedness, and interest in the project options. The results show that the split of students whose first choice would be free-choice, prompt-based, and predefined OEPs is 38%, 26%, and 36% respectively. This finding is in contrast to previous studies which found that free-choice open-ended projects were appropriate for 5-15 % of first-year students. Students who participated in predefined projects were more dissatisfied with their project choice and students who participated in open ended projects were more likely to want to continue working on their projects in the future based on statistically significant differences in survey responses. Students who participated in free-choice OEPs were also more interested in being a part of new projects in the future.

Dunnigan, K. A., & Bringardner, J., & Georgi, G. W. (2019, June), From Pre-Defined to Open-Ended Projects: Evaluating First-Year Ability to Innovate and Problem Solve Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32866

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