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Improving Engineering Education Through Creativity, Collaboration, And Context In A First Year Course

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

FPD4 - Teaching Methods for First Year Students

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.715.1 - 13.715.10



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Paper Authors


Michael Haungs California Polytechnic State University

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Michael Haungs is an Assistant Professor in the Computer Science Department at California Polytechnic State University. He received his B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California, Berkeley, his M.S. degree in Computer Science from Clemson University, and his PhD in Computer Science from the University of California, Davis. His interests are in systems research, with an emphasis on: Distributed Systems, Networking, Interprocess Communications, Operating Systems and Parallel Architectures. Current efforts are in the identification and elimination of I/O bottlenecks in distributed systems.

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John Clements California Polytechnic State University

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John Clements is an assistant professor of Computer Science at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo. His research interests include programming languages and pedagogic environments, and he is the author of DrScheme's algebraic stepper, used all over the world to show students the evaluation of programs as a sequence of simple reduction steps. He holds a PhD in Computer Science from Northeastern University.

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David Janzen California Polytechnic State University

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David Janzen is an assistant professor of computer science at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, and president of Simex, a software consulting and training company. Previously he worked on telecommunications fraud detection systems at Sprint, and taught at Bethel College in Kansas. His teaching and research interests focus on software engineering with an emphasis on agile methodologies and practices, empirical software engineering, software architecture, and software metrics. He holds a PhD in computer science from the University of Kansas.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Improving Engineering Education through Creativity, Collaboration, and Context In a First Year Course

Abstract Over the past few years, Computer Science and some Engineering disciplines have suffered from a decrease in student enrollment, poor retention, and low women and minority representation. We suggest three issues with first-year courses that contribute to this trend. First, students find it difficult to see how their assignments and course material relate to real-world applications. Second, students tend to perceive engineering as an individual endeavor requiring little interaction with peers. Last, early engineering assignments are often overly constrained, possibly to ease grading, allowing minimal room for student creativity. In this paper, we present a model for an introductory freshman-level course that helps address student enrollment and retention issues. Our course is based on three tenets: (1) the course draws problems from, and teaches about, an interesting and relevant domain in which students already are familiar, (2) the course encourages teamwork and peer communication, (3) the student is actively responsible for their education. To address these, the class teaches game design in a collaborative environment in which students are given open-ended assignments to promote creativity. We address instructor grading concerns, various student skill levels, and individual assessment. In our approach, we encourage the implicit acquisition of basic computer science concepts and skills as opposed to directly lecturing about them. Over 60% of the students in our class had no prior programming experience, yet all of the student teams were successful in developing engaging Flash-based games. Student surveys revealed that nearly all students characterize computer science as collaborative, multi-disciplinary, and creative. We believe our class can serve as a model to create other discipline-specific introductory courses. 1.0 Introduction Project-Based Learning (PBL) has been shown to improve student retention, increase long-term interest, and improve performance in future design courses.2, 6, 9, 12 Capstone and cornerstone3 courses are a common home for PBL in many universities. Capstone courses are well-known and cornerstone courses are their freshman-level equivalent. Studies show that cornerstone courses have an even greater impact on the retention of women and minorities6, 17 – in some cases, retention rates improved up to 27% and 56%, respectively.2 The growth of capstone and cornerstone courses may be the result of a 1997 National Science Foundation report5 that calls for engineering educational reform and ABET criteria that emphasize design, teamwork, and communication. Unfortunately, one of the major roadblocks to cornerstone courses is faculty involvement. Faculty members are generally resistant to the amount of effort required to organize and maintain a successful PBL course.11 Cornerstone courses involve creating an interesting problem, possibly in an unfamiliar field, working and managing student teams, and assessing individual and team contributions while accommodating the skill level of incoming freshmen. This extra work does not sound particularly appealing given the pressure on faculty to publish and the lack of staff to

Haungs, M., & Clements, J., & Janzen, D. (2008, June), Improving Engineering Education Through Creativity, Collaboration, And Context In A First Year Course Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3316

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2008 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015