June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
26.1433.1 - 26.1433.18
Students' Experiences with an Open-ended Client Project in a Graduate CourseMuch research by the engineering education community concerning student projects has focusedon undergraduate students' experiences with open-ended client projects, for instance, in capstonedesign courses. Comparatively fewer studies have examined graduate students' experiences.Projects with real clients provide benefits for both the students and the company. Students gainexperience applying the course content, have the opportunity to build skills for solvingunstructured problems, and gain exposure to potential employers. Client companies can leveragethe advanced capabilities of graduate students to address business challenges and have theopportunity to interact with and evaluate potential recruits.The successful integration of open-ended client projects into a graduate course poses challengesfor all parties involved. Assessment of students’ experiences with such a project can guidefuture decisions about the structure of such projects that best meets the needs of students, clients,and faculty. This paper presents the results of a study of students’ experiences with an open-ended client project in a graduate course. The study participants are master’s and doctoralstudents at two different universities. Participants at both universities completed the sameproject with the same industry client. Data about students’ experiences were gathered usingthree surveys: one in the project’s early phases, one approximately halfway through the project,and one after project completion.The surveys measured several dimensions of students’ experiences and tracked changes in theseattributes over the course of the project. Specifically, it measured students' confidence in theirown abilities relative to the course content, confidence in the abilities of their teams as a whole,and attributes of projects and client involvement that students find important for their learningexperiences. Student responses were analyzed to gain insight about the following questions: How does students’ confidence in their own abilities change during the project? How does students’ confidence in team abilities change during the project? What characteristics of client projects are most important to students? Characteristics of projects include the level of direct client involvement with the team, perceived impact of the project on the company, and availability of real or realistic data for the project. How does the fact that the project is for a real client impact levels of stress about the project and the degree to which the project is rewarding for students? Do these observations differ between on-campus and off-campus (distance learning) students, between master’s and doctoral students, and/or between universities?The paper describes opportunities to use the survey findings to inform graduate course designand project selection.
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