Asee peer logo

Practicing Needs-based, Human-centered Design for Electrical Engineering Project Course Innovation

Download Paper |


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

Laboratory Development in ECE II

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1051.1 - 25.1051.17



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Shawn S. Jordan Arizona State University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Shawn Jordan is an Assistant Professor of engineering in the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University, where he teaches junior- and senior-level project-based electrical engineering courses.

visit author page


Micah Lande Arizona State University

visit author page

Micah Lande is an Assistant Professor of engineering in the College of Technology and Innovation at Arizona State University, where he teaches undergraduate, human-centered design-focused, project-based engineering courses.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Practicing Needs-Based, User-Centered Design for Electrical Engineering Project Course Innovation In order to be fully prepared for the engineering workforce, students should tackledesign challenges that are both contextually and technically deep. This paper details acurricular innovation in a junior-level, project-based electrical engineering course at alarge public university. Teams of engineering students were asked to develop designproject briefs based on the needs of a user or user group of their own choosing and thenimplement a technical prototype in one semester. Student work from a class with thisneeds-based, user-centered design pedagogical approach are described. Students benefit from working on authentic engineering design challenges that areconnected to real users and real context over “toy problems”. However, finding subject-matter appropriate engineering projects in addition to securing access to real users fordesign projects can be immensely challenging and time-consuming for instructors,especially at scale. This innovation relies on students to bring context into the classroom,where the instructor can connect it to the curriculum. In addition, the learning objectivesof the described mezzanine Electrical Engineering course are focused solely ondeveloping technical competencies and technical problem-solving. By engaging studentsin finding and defining the user-centered design aspects for their project and discoveringa user and their user needs in the process, this approach offloads these efforts from theinstructor to provide rich learning opportunities for the student teams, even providingadditional motivation for the project outcome and reinforcing of previous, foundationalexposure to the tenets of user-centered design. Illustrative, example project topics includea parking space counting system for the on-campus parking department, an electroniccomponent test automation robot for a local company, and an electronic coaching glovefor a bowling coach. Student teams were required to propose projects for the course that would allowfor the use of an Arduino Uno microcontroller, receive input from at least one sensor andcontrol at least one actuator. In addition, budget constraints ($40/student) and user testingrequirements were given. At the beginning of the semester, teams presented multipleoptions for potential users / clients / stakeholders and received peer and instructorfeedback that guided their selection. Student teams completed detailed benchmarking,user observations and data collection, a mission statement, and defined requirements andspecifications based on the user. The majority of the semester was then spent designingand implementing functional prototypes. Time in class time mixed “just in time” mini-lectures on relevant topics such as microcontrollers, interfacing, circuit design, andsoftware engineering topics, with mentoring sessions. Real users allowed students tosolicit regular feedback and test in situ to guide their design decisions and help themiterate on their designs. This paper can inform instructors interested in bringing additionalstudent-supplied context into their electrical engineering project courses.

Jordan, S. S., & Lande, M. (2012, June), Practicing Needs-based, Human-centered Design for Electrical Engineering Project Course Innovation Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21808

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: © 2012 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