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Implementation of a Flotation Platform Project for a First-Year Engineering, Project-Based Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 7: Experiential Learning

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Victoria E Goodrich University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Victoria Goodrich is the Director of the First-Year Engineering Program at the University of Notre Dame. She holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and a MS and PhD in Chemical Engineering from Notre Dame. Her research focuses primarily on Engineering Education issues, especially focused within the first-year engineering experience.

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Leo H. McWilliams University of Notre Dame

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Dr. Leo H. McWilliams is Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Programs and the Director of the Minority Engineering Program in the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame. Prior to joining Notre Dame he worked as a principal engineer at Honeywell International. Dr. McWilliams received his B.A. in economics, B.S.E.E., M.S.E.E. and Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame.

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This paper describes evidence based approach to update a first-year engineering course project to meet more educational best practices. In fall 2014 and fall 2015, the first-year engineering course at a medium-sized, Midwestern, private university implemented a new design project in the first-year engineering course sequence. Learning objectives for the project include introducing the engineering design process, working with uncertainty in the design process, and improving teaming/communication skills. In this project, students were tasked with designing a platform that could support three specified loads with additional requirements for the height of floats that could be submerged under each condition. The students had several weeks to determine a design based solely on simple modelling equations and the explicit loading and size requirements. They additionally had to consider the implicit requirements of the system, including stability of the structure, waterproofing, and appearance. Student groups exploited computational tools for their design by creating an engineering drawing in Creo Parametric for visualization and by developing equations and an expected performance plot in Microsoft EXCEL for analyzing their system. Finally, they were able to build and demonstrate their platforms using course purchased construction materials which included: poster board, shipping tape, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, and a handful of other similar products. Some positive traits of the project include: (1) The modelling equations are simple and do not require physics or calculus knowledge to design the system, so they are appropriate for first-semester students. However, finding a solution to the project is not trivial for a first-year student. (2) The design requirements can be structured to allow for many different designs or more highly constrained to force an outcome of more specific designs. (3) The cost of materials needed for the project is relatively low and all materials are easily obtained. The project could easily be changed by simply changing the allowable materials for construction. In both implementations, students were asked to write a short reflection on the skills acquired after completing the project. Reflections were categorized based on reflection themes to determine common themes and trends. This assessment, while largely qualitative in nature, provides a snapshot of how well students internalize the learning objectives for the project. Results from 2014 indicate that student participation in the project is beneficial to their understanding of the physics relationships specific to the project, their comfort in using of engineering tools (most notably CAD software), and their ability and comfort in working in group projects While 2015 data was similar, more students indicated that they enhanced their understanding of the engineering design process through the project. The paper will detail some speculations for why these differences were seen.

Goodrich, V. E., & McWilliams, L. H. (2016, June), Implementation of a Flotation Platform Project for a First-Year Engineering, Project-Based Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27310

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