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The Ultimate Cap Stone Course: A Laboratory Based Problem Solving Design Project

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Instrumentation and Measurement: Innovative Courses

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1276.1 - 13.1276.6



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Paper Authors


John Marshall University of Southern Maine

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JOHN MARSHALL’s specialization is Industrial Power and Automation, focusing on active/intelligent materials and advanced control systems. Grants have enabled him to design and equip a state-of-the-art power and control problem solving learning environment.

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

The Ultimate Capstone Course: A Laboratory Based Problem Solving Design Project


The purpose of this paper is to provide insight into the “laboratory based problem solving learning environment” that has been developed with financial and technical assistance from local industries. The discussion will also identify how the “need” for this type of project based curriculum became obvious. Four prerequisite courses are briefly described before focusing on the project based capstone course. These four courses provide the students with the technical skill sets needed to succeed in the senior level capstone course. Accomplishments and outcomes from the student perspective, the University perspective, and the industry perspective will also be shared.

Our advancing world of computer integration, process control, industrial automation, and telecommunications requires technical problem solvers and knowledgeable decision makers. “The activities of problem solving and decision making are closely intertwined”,1 and both skills can effective be learned through project based capstone courses. Industrial partnering has enabled the development of a state-of-the-art power and automation curriculum and project based problem solving learning environment for our students and also for the communities beyond campus.

The laboratory based problem solving learning environment is organized into clusters. These clusters are equipped with components such as computers, printers, programmable logic controllers, sensors, pneumatic valves and actuators, mechanisms, rotary index tables, hydraulic cylinders, electric motors, and vibratory feeder bowls. In the senior capstone course, participants are grouped into teams that solve realistic industrial problems such as parts sorting, quality control, clamp and work circuits, material handling, and component assembly.

Students find this capstone level course both challenging and rewarding as they are required to integrate subject matter learned from many courses throughout their entire degree program. This highly developed advanced course integrates competences mastered in other courses such as computer-assisted design, spreadsheet and database utilization, material processing, computer programming, and ergonomics. Students actually use every lab in the building (CAD lab, welding lab, etc.) but the focal point is the complex yet inviting industrial problem solving lab. This unique project based senior course continually challenges the student to advance, grow, internalize and demonstrate the new knowledge and techniques they are leaning.

Marshall, J. (2008, June), The Ultimate Cap Stone Course: A Laboratory Based Problem Solving Design Project Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4088

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