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Learning from Working on Others’ Problems: Case Study of an Interdisciplinary Project-based Global Service-learning Program

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Global Community Engagement in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.882.1 - 25.882.17



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Paper Authors


Aditya Johri Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Aditya Johri is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. He studies the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for learning and knowledge sharing, with a focus on cognition in informal environments. Sites of research include distributed work among globally dispersed workers and social development in emerging economies. His research is supported by several grants including a NSF Early Career Award.

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Akshay Sharma Virginia Tech

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Beyond Service Learning: Engaging Students in Long-term Global Projects for Reciprocal Learning In this paper we present a case study of an interdisciplinary design course that providesstudents the opportunity to engage in projects that address global development problems throughlong-term partnerships with clients. We conceptualize this project as going beyond servicelearning as we take the perspective that that there is a lot to be learned about design frommarginalized users and from context that are often highly constrained. Self-determination theoryand prosocial motivation theory form the backbone of the effort and of the curriculum design.The overall goal of the program is to teach students about social development issues, increasetheir understanding and awareness of global problems, and provide them an understanding ofdesign as a framework and methodology to bring about change. The objective behind using adesign-based course as a way to engage students with global issues was to show students aconcrete way in which they can make a difference by using a design-based approach tounderstand and solve a problem by designing useful and usable systems and artifacts. In thispaper we describe the initial conception of the idea, building of partnerships (across engineeringand industrial design faculty and with NGOs in the field), and describe how the program hasprogressed over the past year through a series of activities: independent study, incorporation ofdesign projects in a large freshmen course, summer REU (Research Experiences forUndergraduates) program, and then a full-fledged class offering which will become a regularoffering after another iteration. Through these iterations, we have identified the importance ofpicking a few key projects and clients and working on those projects and with those clientpartners at for a longer time period. This infrastructure building is essential and allows forincorporation of mentors, more buy-in from the clients, improvement of the design and productover time, but with enough variations to provide novelty and keep the students interested. In thepaper we discuss projects we have undertaken including financial literacy, prosthetics,immunization, and power sources for mobile phones. To provide empirical support for our ideasand implementation we present both quantitative assessment data and qualitative data collectedfrom students using interviews and focus groups. Additional data we have collected and are inthe process of analyzing include video recordings of design teams. The data collection for theproject is open-ended guided by a goal to understand student motivation and to documentstudents’ experiences working on these projects and as a part of interdisciplinary teams.

Johri, A., & Sharma, A. (2012, June), Learning from Working on Others’ Problems: Case Study of an Interdisciplinary Project-based Global Service-learning Program Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21639

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