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Teaching Human Centered Design With Service Learning

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Capstone Design Pedagogy II

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1175.1 - 15.1175.13



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Paper Authors


Carla Zoltowski Purdue University

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CARLA B. ZOLTOWSKI is Education Administrator of the EPICS Program at Purdue
University. She received her BSEE and MSEE from Purdue University, and is a PhD Candidate in Engineering Education at Purdue. She has served as a lecturer in Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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William Oakes Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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William Oakes is the Director of the EPICS Program and an Associate Professor and a founding faculty member of the Department of Engineering Education at Purdue University with courtesy appointments in Mechanical Engineering and of Curriculum and Instruction. He is a co-recipient the NEA’s Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, the Campus Compact Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning; the NSPE’s Educational Excellence Award.

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Steve Chenoweth Rose Hulman Institute Of Technology

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Steve Chenoweth is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. His principle areas of work relate to the design of complex systems and also these systems’ associated people concerns – such as how to get all the stakeholders in a large project to understand each another and the system being proposed. He was a visiting Fellow for EPICS in 2009-2010.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Teaching Human-Centered Design with Service-Learning


Effectively teaching human-centered design can pose challenges within the undergraduate curriculum as it requires access to users and stakeholders. Service-learning, a growing pedagogy within engineering, offers many synergistic opportunities to create a human-centered design experience. In service-learning, students are paired with a real user in a real community and asked to address a real need. This paper presents the implementation of a human-centered design approach using service-learning at Purdue University. The approach is multidisciplinary with participation from students within and outside of engineering. The design process and curricular structure is discussed along with example projects that illustrate the approach from the perspectives including mechanical, electrical and software design. Successes and challenges are also discussed.


Design has long been a core function of engineers. Recently it has been argued that there is a paradigm shift occurring in design from a “technology-centered design” to “human-centered design” approach1. IDEO defines human-centered design as “a process and a set of techniques used to create new solutions for the world. Solutions include products, services, environments, organizations, and modes of interaction. The reason this process is called “human-centered” is because it starts with the people we are designing for.” 2 The human-centered approach to design is a recognized contributor to innovations in engineering design3. This approach also helps students to develop skills in creativity, practical ingenuity, and communication necessary for the Engineer of 20204. It provides competitive advantage to engineers in a global workplace5, and help engineers address the Grand Challenges identified by the National Academy of Engineering6. Utilizing human-centered design processes have been shown to increase productivity, improve quality, reduce errors, reduce training and support costs, improve people's acceptance of new products, enhance companies' reputations, increase user satisfaction and reduce development costs.7,8

There are many examples cited in the literature that point to the lack of understanding of the user, or an understanding of the way in which the product would be used, that contributed to its failure8,9,10. ”Without effective user involvement in all stages of planning and design the organization is simply storing up problems for the future. When the problems emerge post- implementation they are likely to be serious and more intractable because system changes become more expensive as the design progresses and ‘hardens.’”8 Effectively teaching human- centered design can pose challenges within the undergraduate curriculum as it requires access to users and stakeholders. Service-learning, a growing pedagogy within engineering, offers many synergistic opportunities to create a human-centered design experience.

Zoltowski, C., & Oakes, W., & Chenoweth, S. (2010, June), Teaching Human Centered Design With Service Learning Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16506

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