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Student Skills Growth in a Prototyping and Fabrication Course: Increase in Operation and Technique-based Knowledge as a Result of an Apprenticeship Model

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Making in Design Education

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Matthew Wettergreen Rice University Orcid 16x16

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Matthew Wettergreen was appointed director of the department's Master's of Bioengineering Global Medical Innovation program in 2020. He is also an Associate Teaching Professor at the award-winning Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen at Rice University, recruited as the first faculty hire in 2013.

Wettergreen co-developed six of the seven engineering design courses in the design curriculum at the OEDK, including the flagship first-year engineering design and Prototyping and Fabrication course. This practical hands-on course increases student proficiency in the development of prototypes using low fidelity prototyping, iterative design, and advanced manufacturing tools. Dr. Wettergreen’s efforts to scaffold prototyping into all of the OEDK’s design courses were recognized with Rice’s Teaching Award for Excellence in Inquiry-Based Learning. In 2017, four faculty members, including Wettergreen, combined the engineering design courses at the OEDK to create the first engineering design minor in the US, credentialing students for a course of study in engineering design, teamwork, prototyping, and client-based projects.

Wettergreen has over ten years of experience teaching client-based engineering design courses, and a deep interest in engineering education, specifically curriculum that can be employed to build capacity for student development in makerspaces. Building off of this interest, he has taught and mentored faculty in Brazil, Malawi, and Tanzania to launch makerspaces and work with institutions to develop engineering design curriculum. Dr. Wettergreen is the faculty mentor for Rice’s Design for America chapter, for which he has been given the Hudspeth Award for excellence in student club mentoring.

Wettergreen is also a designer of consumer products under Data Design Co, and of a number of academic products that improve students prototyping techniques, including a low fidelity prototyping cart and the Laser Cutter Prototyping Library. His design work has been featured on the cover of NASA Tech Briefs and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, Make Magazine, Atlantic Monthly and Texas Monthly.

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Joshua Brandel

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The essence of prototyping is problem solving through the creation of physical or digital artifacts. Engineers prototype to communicate creative ideas, explore design alternatives, evolve the details of a solution, and achieve functional design solutions. The process of prototyping exists on a spectrum of scope (whole solution versus sub-function of solution) and complexity (simple tools and materials versus manufacturing tools and materials). Deep expertise with prototyping as a method of problem solving is acquired over years of study, practice, and repetition on machines and software packages. Unfortunately, students are expected to produce physical prototypes without the luxury of dedicated training in this skill as this often competes with other prime time course content. There exists a need to upskill engineering students to a point where they can gain momentum on physical and digital prototypes using their own trial-and-error processes.

Prototyping education is completed through a number of avenues in academic makerspaces, including informal workshops, independent self-directed learning, and formal courses. This paper details over five years of results from a course that teaches skills in prototyping and fabrication for the goal of increasing student confidence in producing high resolution prototypes. This course includes modules that teach students the following techniques: how to build a box (3 ways), post-processing and finishing (surface modification: grind, sand, eg; surface treatment: paint, powder coat, eg), 2D drawing (digital), vector based cutting (laser, plasma, water jet, vinyl), and the use of multiple toolchains/processes to produce objects. The course has been designed to be high touch and simulate apprenticeship with an expert. All aspects of the course involve active learning and regular hands-on workshops enhance the experience for students by making the experience practical instead of didactic. Grading is proficiency based so students have standards of excellence to work towards. Students peer grade each other which helps them to develop a critical eye for high quality work as well as to articulate (and receive) feedback about work products. Students detail all of their work through a publicly viewable blog that showcases their process, decisions, failures, and triumphs. Through surveys and analysis of work product we evaluated the learning outcomes of the course; students increased in their proficiency of each of the techniques and tools that were instructed. Additionally, students reflected an increase in confidence as evidenced through their personal statements of each of the documents about their homework.

Wettergreen, M., & Brandel, J. (2021, July), Student Skills Growth in a Prototyping and Fabrication Course: Increase in Operation and Technique-based Knowledge as a Result of an Apprenticeship Model Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37761

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