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The Impact Of “Special Needs” Projects On Student Learning

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

FPD10 -- Pre-Engineering and Bridge Programs

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1432.1 - 12.1432.13



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Paper Authors


Cecelia Wigal University of Tennessee-Chattanooga

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Cecelia M. Wigal received her Ph.D. in 1998 from Northwestern University and is presently an associate professor of engineering at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC). Her primary areas of interest and expertise include complex process and system analysis, quality process analysis with respect to nontraditional applications such as patient safety, and information system analysis with respect to usability and effectivity.

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Molly Littleton Signal Centers

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

The Impact of “Special Needs” Projects on Student Learning

Abstract The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) identifies design as an important element of the engineering curriculum. The faculty at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga believes the concepts and principles of design are as fundamental to undergraduate engineering education as are those tools and topics traditionally thought as fundamental (such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, statics, and dynamics). One of the benefits of design is the hands-on activities or Project-Based Learning application it brings to the classroom. ABET also states that engineering programs must demonstrate that their students have the education to “understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.” Many engineering programs use design projects as one means of addressing this outcome. This paper describes UTC’s process of using freshman hands-on design projects to address these outcomes. Of special interest is the impact of student projects that address needs of children with disabilities.

Introduction The Engineering program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) recently redesigned its freshman introduction to engineering design course (IED) to use Project–Based Learning (PBL) to excite students to independently learn, to create an environment for peer learning, and to increase student in-class and out of class participation. It is believed that these objectives are instrumental for exciting students about engineering, for increasing student retention, for motivating learning, and for improving students’ knowledge transfer capabilities especially in the application of engineering design.

To meet these objectives, the IED course instructional structure now culminates in customer supported projects. The instructors of IED recently received a grant from the Tennessee Department of Education (project Technology Designed to Benefit (TDB)) to design, prototype, test, evaluate and disseminate products, procedures and services that apply adaptive and assistive technologies to children with disabilities and their families and service providers. As part of this grant mechanical, civil, environmental, electrical, chemical, and industrial engineering students in the freshman year team with early interventionists to use a defined and unique customer to actively engage in the design process, especially to define the problem, application environment, and customer needs and build and test the prototype. Students are responsible for communicating with the requestor and customers, designing a device that meets customer constraints, safety and operational codes and standards, and budget restrictions, and testing the device with the customer (child).

This paper presents the PBL process initiated by the engineering program at UTC in the fall of 2005 that emphasizes the TBD projects. Descriptions of the course objectives as well as project outcomes from the 2005 and 2006 course offerings are provided. Student responses to the experience are emphasized and the outcomes of this experience on student learning are summarized.

Wigal, C., & Littleton, M. (2007, June), The Impact Of “Special Needs” Projects On Student Learning Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2184

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