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Improved Student Engagement through Project-Based Learning in Freshman Engineering Design

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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

Design in Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Mary S Carpenter Ed.D. CCD - Custom Curriculum Design

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With more than thirty years’ experience in the education profession, Dr. Carpenter has a track record of managing the development of high quality, revenue impacting, blended curriculum. A seasoned professor and corporate trainer, she has delivered valuable learning experiences to students who range in age and ability from Head Start preschoolers to doctoral candidates at one of America’s oldest universities. As a certified Instructional Designer, she has held leadership and instructional design positions at Fortune 500 Companies where she has leveraged strong program management and communication skills, knowledge of various MLSs, and the ability to lead and collaborate with IT professionals, subject matter experts, and content developers to create and maintain revenue generating learning experiences.

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Chris Yakymyshyn

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Dr. Yakymyshyn received a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering/Physics from the University of Alberta, Canada in 1984, and an MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University. He has worked at large R&D corporations and start-ups. He was a faculty member at Montana State University and Florida Polytechnic University. He has received numerous awards, including the NSERC and Alberta Heritage scholarships, the Eta Kappa Nu outstanding young EE of the year runner-up, several teaching excellence awards and several R&D 100 awards. He has authored over 60 technical papers, one book chapter and has 37 U.S. patents. He is a senior member of IEEE and a Life member of the Optical Society of America.

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Logan Edward Micher

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Logan Micher was born in Southery, England, in 1996. He earned an IB Diploma in May 2012, and is currently working towards his Bachelor of Engineering degree. Logan recently developed a low-cost, programmable robot designed for intermediary robotics instruction, and held classes in which he walked students through design, prototyping, revision, manufacturing, and assembly processes. Since 2010, Logan has worked as a private tutor; most recently he has moved from small in-person tutoring into electronic classroom learning as a consultant for an online tutoring service. In previous semesters, he has aided the teaching of introductory design and modeling classes at Florida Polytechnic University. As the operator of the Florida Polytechnic University Robotics Laboratory, he trains students to use fabrication machinery, 2D and 3D design software, and analytic methods to aid in student and research projects. Logan also provides 3D modeling, prototyping, and 2D design services to various local companies, and hopes to earn certifications for 3D design in the coming months.

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Ashly Locke Florida Polytechnic University

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Ashly Locke is a fifteen year Navy veteran and a Lab Technician at Florida Polytechnic University. She received a bachelor of science in Electrical Engineering Technology from Purdue University. Currently she is pursuing a master of science in Electrical Engineering at Florida Polytechnic University. Prior to joining Florida Polytechnic’s inaugural staff; she worked for fourteen years in the automotive electronics and eighteen months in the aircraft electronics industries. She has extensive experience in the education and training of adult learners.

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Improved Student Engagement through Project-Based Learning in Freshman Engineering Design

The implementation and assessment of Project Based Learning (PBL) in a one credit hour freshman undergraduate course on Engineering Design is described. The overall objective of the instructional modality selected was to improve student engagement and retention at the freshman level by exposing students to a hands-on engineering design experience. In contrast to design courses taken in the final year of study, this course was taken prior to the accumulation of detailed technical knowledge in the student’s engineering discipline. Instructional scaffolding was implemented in course delivery, and included: 1) creating a safe, respectful, collaborative environment for instructor and students; 2) crafting learning goals with the flexibility to ensure they overlapped with the variegated “zones of proximal development” of the freshman student cohort; and 3) gradually tapering instructor involvement from lecturer and frequent collaborator to infrequent guide and troubleshooter as students mastered and applied the skills needed to complete their projects.

To minimize “social loafing,” inter-student collaborations were encouraged through ad-hoc rather than formal groups, and a unique prototype deliverable was required of every student. Access to an in-house 3D printer facility to print prototype hardware was provided in order to give students exposure to mechanical design software, acclimate students to 3D printed product quality, and to facilitate the timely delivery of components at a reasonable cost. Access to a 3D printer facility enabled the completion of approximately 100 unique student projects at the end of the 15 week semester; although use of the 3D printers was not mandatory, almost half of the finished prototypes incorporated 3D printed components. The instructor’s selection of the project was guided by the need to stimulate the interest of students pursuing a variety of engineering disciplines, provide design constraints while encouraging individual creative content in the completed prototype, enable students to complete hardware component designs with easily learned design tools, and allow successful hardware demonstration against a set of design requirements within the time, space, and resource constraints of a one credit hour class.

The course deliverables included: submission of a quad chart containing design objectives, design details, bill of materials and a Gantt chart; completion and demonstration of a working prototype; and an original data sheet describing the features of each unique design. The deliverables were assessed based on completed prototype quality (including an end-of-semester contest to select the top designs by an independent panel of judges), compliance with a subset of the design specifications, total number of prototypes completed, and course evaluations provided by enrolled students. Surprisingly, many students invested considerable time outside of class to complete what were arguably very ambitious designs. The level of personal pride in student prototypes led to a friendly competition to achieve the highest value for one performance metric, with one prototype exceeding the design target by more than a factor of 300. The conditions that led to the students’ self-imposed workload and the exceptional overall student engagement will be presented.

Carpenter, M. S., & Yakymyshyn, C., & Micher, L. E., & Locke, A. (2016, June), Improved Student Engagement through Project-Based Learning in Freshman Engineering Design Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25602

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