July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
This Complete Evidence-based Practice paper describes the design, implementation, and evaluation of a novel hands-on engineering design module that was administered in an entirely online format in a large-enrollment First-Year Experience (FYE) engineering course. Engineering design principles and processes are foundational concepts across the engineering disciplines and are frequently included as key learning objectives in FYE engineering courses. Product design challenges, in particular, have been found to be well aligned with FYE course objectives because they can be scaled to rely on secondary education-level physical science concepts and intrinsically reinforce durable skills such as spatial visualization, end-user centered design, and technical documentation. Although the product design process can culminate in either a physical or virtual prototype (i.e., “paper design”), hands-on fabrication of a physical prototype has been shown to: (1) improve basic engineering skills, viz. spatial visualization; (2) increase student interest and retention in the discipline; and (3) prepare students for the engineering workforce. There are substantial logistical and pedagogical challenges to implementing hands-on engineering design curricula in FYE courses—these issues are only compounded in large-enrollment courses with limited direct faculty oversight. The added complexity of offering hands-on learning opportunities in a completely online instructional setting during the COVID-19 pandemic has understandably led many instructors to pivot to a paper design model in large-enrollment FYE courses. In this paper, we introduce a novel hands-on, mechanically-oriented product design module that is compatible with large-enrollment FYE courses being taught in a completely online setting. This module addresses persistent financial, materials, and student safety constraints that are inherent to all large-enrollment FYE courses while also presenting students with a scalable engineering challenge that addresses common learning objectives of FYE engineering courses.
The learning objectives for our novel team-based, hands-on product design challenge are: (1) to apply principles of simple machines and conservation of energy; (2) to improve spatial visualization skills through conversion of 2D to 3D design; and (3) to persist through one full engineering design cycle in developing and testing a functional prototype. The project was inspired by a line of commercially available wooden mechanical models (UGears®). These models are entirely composed of parts that are laser-cut from thin sheets of wood (3 mm thick birch), and most product designs incorporate gear, linkage, and other simple machine components. With permission from the company, the module involved students designing a new model for the UGears® product line that specifically targeted the college market. Instructor-imposed design constraints included: (1) a tight material budget (8x10 inch sheet of ⅛” thick plywood); (2) minimum number of simple machine types; and (3) required input and output machine characteristics.
At the beginning of the semester, students were mailed a course material packet that included several small UGears® models and a custom-designed, laser-cut common components board with pre-defined gears, axles, and machine frames. Over an 8-week period, students worked in teams of 3-5 and were guided through a four-phase design process (Definition, Concepts, Detailed Design, Validation) via weekly scaffolded team assignments. The initial assignments focused on user-centered research and concept generation. This was followed by a four-week module on machine design that utilized the common components board to introduce simple machine types, conservation of energy and mechanical advantage, and the details of fits and tolerances necessary to design their own laser-cut frame. Student teams then designed their own model using either 2D (Inkscape) or 3D (SolidWorks or Autodesk Inventor) software. The project culminated in teams submitting their final design files to be laser cut using on-campus facilities. Prototypes were then mailed back to student teams for design validation.
This module was implemented in Fall 2020 in a large-enrollment (~650 students) FYE engineering course at a state university in the US. Material, manufacturing, and shipping costs for the project were $8.50 per student, and this included equipment usage and labor charges for on-campus laser cutters. The complete project curriculum, along with supplemental design files and instructional materials, will be presented in the full length paper. Also included in the full-length paper will be a formative evaluation of the first year implementation of this project. The evaluation will compare student outcomes common group assignments from UGears® verus similar projects from face-to-face versions of the course in prior years. Student focus group and survey data will also be presented using validated instruments from prior work by our research team. The curricula and results presented in this study will be valuable for other institutions who are presently struggling to maintain hands-on learning experiences in FYE engineering courses, particularly during mandated online instructional periods.
Buckley, J., & Malladi, H., & Trauth, A., & Headley, M. G. (2021, July), Novel Hands-on Product-design Module for Online, Large-enrollment FYE Courses Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37527
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