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Results of Integrating a Maker Space into a First-Year Engineering Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Maker Spaces in the First Year

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Stephanie M Gillespie University of New Haven

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Stephanie Gillespie is a lecturer at the University of New Haven in the Engineering and Applied Science Education department. She previously specialized in service learning while teaching at the Arizona State University in the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program. Her current teaching and research interests are in developing study skills and identity in first-year engineering students and improving retention rates. She acts as the faculty liaison for the University of New Haven Makerspace and facilitates student and faculty training. She received her Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and her BSEE from the University of Miami.

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Goli Nossoni University of New Haven

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Dr. Goli Nossoni is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of New Haven. She received her M.S. and Ph.D. from Michigan State University in Structural Engineering and Materials Science. In addition to her interest in engineering education, Dr. Nossoni specializes in the research area of materials especially concrete and corrosion of steel inside concrete.

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This Complete Evidence-Based Practice paper explores the integration of makerspace lessons and projects into a first-year Introduction to Engineering class. Starting in 2013, the study body representing traditional students starting their degrees immediately following high school began to switch from Millennials to Generation Z (Gen Z). As our student population changes, their interests and characteristics should influence our teaching pedagogy. Seemiller found that students prefer to work independently, involving others only when necessary [1]. Cruz found that over half of the interviewed Gen Z students identified that they enjoyed creating and tinkering as children, suggesting an association between engineering as a career choice with the activities of making and creating [2]. It is likely that Gen Z students will continue their strong preference for hands-on, practical education activities that provide meaningful experiences as young adults as they continue into college courses and higher education [3]. Rickes proposes that craft-shops and/or makerspaces may match students’ interests in creativity with a venue on campus in which to make and design.

A makerspace is typically defined as a space in which various tools and technologies are provided to support rapid prototyping and creation of products [4]. Typical technology will include 3D printers, laser cutters, hand tools or power tools, and electronics support, as well as light-prototyping supplies including craft supplies and/or Legos. Beyond the technology, these spaces are often viewed as a place for students to be creative, learn new skills, and practice various behaviors typically identified with engineering. Prior research has suggested the informal-learning that happens in the makerspace is often due to the sense of community from students working closely and learning from peers [4, 5].

How well would the use of makerspaces integrate into the learning objectives within a first year engineering course? Students surveyed by Avrithi reported that the single most important change that could be made to their introduction to engineering class would be to provide more information about the available engineering disciplines (59%) and have lab-sessions incorporated into the course (23%) [6]. Makerspace classes can meet these needs by not only showcasing the modern innovations in science and engineering behind the makerspace equipment, but also provide students related in-class lab activities to learn how to use the equipment. Traditionally, course goals for first year engineering courses often focus on teaching technical competency, design thinking and problem solving, and rapid prototyping [6]. However many universities view the introductory engineering course as a critical retention class to reduce the number of students who change majors or drop out [7]. Many institutions are focusing on instilling a sense of identity and belonging to the field of engineering in their students in an effort to increase retention [8,9]. As one way to instill a sense of belonging, Carbonell et al. found that the integration of the makerspace into various coursework increased technology self-efficacy, affect toward design, design self-efficacy, and sense of belonging [5].

There are multiple examples of universities already using makerspaces with their first-year engineering courses at various levels of integration. New York University requires first-year engineering students enrolled in an introductory course to visit the makerspace for orientation, enticing students to try 3D-printing to earn extra credit on the final project [10]. New Jersey Institute of Technology has used 3D-printing as a way to reinforce 3D modeling with a mini design competition and creation of a spinning top [11]. At the University of Florida, their first-year Engineering Design and Society course teaches human centered design while incorporating makerspace training classes to prepare students for the final term project which must include Arduino and 3D printed designs [12].

This paper documents an effort to modify an existing design project in a first-year engineering course to a team-based project that utilizes various technologies in the campus makerspace, including Arduino, hand-tools, a laser cutter, and 3D-printing. The logistical aspects and challenges of integrating the makerspace into the existing curriculum are discussed, as well as the guidelines for the revised class periods and final project.

This paper also provides an analysis regarding whether integration of a makerspace into a first-year engineering course positively or negatively impacted first-year students developing: 1) an engineering or maker identity, 2) technical skills, and 3) general engineering skills such as curiosity, problem solving, and/or teamwork. Students completed pre/post surveys regarding prior makerspace experience, their first-year makerspace experience, engineering identity, and general engineering skills. The survey results of students who participated in the maker-sections of the course are compared with survey results of a control group who did not have the maker-integration in the same course.

Gillespie, S. M., & Nossoni, G. (2020, June), Results of Integrating a Maker Space into a First-Year Engineering Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35158

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