June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Improving Student Capstone Experience by Early Exposure and Engagement
Many students enter the capstone course with an incomplete understanding of the course format and often struggle with the open-ended nature of the experience. While students are eager to apply the their technical skills in a design environment, proficiency with professional skills can represent the greatest barrier to success. Well-formed planning, communication and team skills are often differentiating elements among the most successful project teams. The abstract nature of these abilities requires a contextual basis to effectively develop within a higher cognitive domain. While freshman and sophomore students are exposed to theses skills, the must be applied and reflected upon in an environment that is relevant to the mechanical engineering to fully mature. This study examines the introduction of a 1-credit hour course that exposes underclassman to relevant capstone professional skills and cultivates engagement of students across the program levels.
A 1-credit hour course was developed to compliment a single semester capstone course within a mechanical engineering department. This elective course was not required by the core curriculum and was recommended for undergraduates in the sophomore and junior years. Titled “Fundamentals of Engineering Projects”, the course addresses a broad range of subjects relevant to the mechanical engineering capstone experience including the development of design specifications, application of professional codes and standards, oral and written presentation techniques, prototyping and project management. The course parallels the on-going capstone course and offers a deeper treatment of topics discussed within the capstone. The intent of the course is to provide awareness early in the undergraduate program and establish a base of reference materials for use in the senior year. Developed with an active learning structure, the class meetings have three components; a brief lecture, an active learning exercise and mini-presentations presentations by current capstone students. The central objective of this framework is to engage the underclassman with capstone seniors, as their real-time example is provides an invaluable demonstration tool. In a flipped manner, underclassmen in the introductory course are invited to participate in key capstone exercises including a mid-semester peer-based design review. This engagement has far reaching benefits as the students involved enrich their own experience and become resources to pass information to their future capstone teams.
This study examines the impact of the elective introductory course and follows students throughout the sophomore, junior and senior years. Students, at varied stages in the curriculum, were interviewed to assess the effectiveness of the introductory course and the influence of early exposure to the capstone experience on their final project. Preliminary results suggest that sophomore and junior students value the engagement with seniors and are more productive within their own capstone work. Students comment that “hearing seniors talk about their capstone experience” is a key motivator for enrollment in the introductory course. Review of faculty capstone project assessments has shown a marked increase in the quality of senior projects since the adoption this new paradigm. The paper will also include reflections of industry professional reviewers involved in the capstone project.
Schmidt, D. E., & Clark, R. M. (2017, June), Improving Student Capstone Experience by Early Exposure and Engagement Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/28491
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