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Physical Computing Design Project to Promote Equity and Community in an Introductory Engineering Course

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2019 FYEE Conference


Penn State University , Pennsylvania

Publication Date

July 28, 2019

Start Date

July 28, 2019

End Date

July 30, 2019

Conference Session

M1A: WIP - Learning experiences 1

Tagged Topics

Diversity and FYEE Conference - Paper Submission

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Paper Authors


Jennifer Mullin UC Davis

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Jennifer S. Mullin is a faculty member in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at UC Davis.

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The Introduction to Engineering course is a hybrid oral communication elective developed to serve first-year students from all eight of the academic departments offering undergraduate degrees in the UC Davis College of Engineering (COE). Motivations for the course included lack of an appropriate communication elective at the university that adequately served the engineering curriculum, need for student access to communication courses prior to senior year due to impacted enrollment, the lack of hands-on design experiences offered early in the undergraduate curriculum along with persistent issues of retention in the COE programs at the large public university. “Physical Computing Design Solutions for Farmers” is a team-based open-ended project assignment developed by a faculty member assigned to lead course enhancements and expansion efforts through a culture of inclusivity and equity. Through a unique relationship with the self-sustaining campus-based UCD Student Farm, students enrolled in the project-based course visited, identified, consulted with and addressed issues on the farm using open-source digital technologies. Prior experience with these technologies (e.g., Arduino, Raspberry Pi, electronic circuits, etc.) were not required nor were these skills graded thus allowing for a more collaborative, learner-centered, tinkering and community-based approach. The design project was structured around a series of communication milestones leading to a Final Design Showcase event where, in lieu of a final exam, multidisciplinary teams presented their functional prototypes to invited university-affiliated guests (e.g. alumni, faculty, graduate students, university staff, etc.) who provided evaluation and feedback. Through this project experience first year students had opportunities to freely explore and learn new digital and prototyping technologies including laser cutting and 3D printing, to apply science and engineering theory and to collaborate with a broader community including upper division engineering students across majors and graduate student instructors. Guided instruction on use of the open-source technologies was provided in the smaller hands-on studio sessions, limited to 24 students, before teams were provided with take-home technology kits for prototyping purposes. Fall 2018 student reflections, enrollment demographics and design outcomes provide insight into project successes and inform future curriculum iterations.

Mullin, J. (2019, July), Physical Computing Design Project to Promote Equity and Community in an Introductory Engineering Course Paper presented at 2019 FYEE Conference , Penn State University , Pennsylvania.

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