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Work in Progress: Implementing Sophomore Cornerstone Courses in Electrical and Computer Engineering

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

New Developments in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

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Paper Authors


Branimir Pejcinovic Portland State University

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Branimir Pejcinovic received his Ph.D. degree from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is a Professor and former Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education at Portland State University, Electrical and Computer Engineering department. In this role he has led department-wide changes in curriculum with emphasis on project- and lab-based instruction and learning. His research interests are in the areas of engineering education, semiconductor device characterization, design and simulation, signal integrity and THz sensors. He is a member of IEEE and ASEE.

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Melinda Holtzman Portland State University

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Melinda Holtzman received her Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno. She is a Senior Instructor in the ECE department at PSU.

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Phillip Wong Portland State University

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Phillip Wong received an M.S. degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 1990. Since then, he has been with Portland State University, Oregon, USA, where he is currently the ECE Lab Coordinator and an instructor.

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Many engineering programs have significant project-based courses in the freshman and senior years. The project component in our freshman year-long sequence evolves from minimally structured projects, like designing and building Rube-Goldberg contraptions, to more complex microcontroller-based projects where formal tools for teamwork and project management are introduced. However, we do not yet enforce strict adherence to procedures and processes in the freshman year. This is unlike the senior capstone, where the expectation is that students will not only be familiar with these methods but will use them effectively throughout their projects. This presents an obvious problem: what happens in the middle two years? Clearly, there is a very long gap, and unless there are more courses reinforcing the initial learning, it is very likely that students will not further develop and will tend to forget even the basics of their teamwork and project management skills.

Our answer to this problem has been the introduction of a two-quarter long course sequence: ECE 211 Introduction to Design Processes and ECE 212 Introduction to Project Development. We call this sequence the Cornerstone courses. We had two overarching goals: 1. Teach students design and project development well before senior Capstone projects. 2. Integrate various strands of electrical and computer engineering through experiential learning. We decided to use advanced IoT-ready microcontrollers as a tool to accomplish the 2nd goal.

In addition to other specific learning outcomes, these courses were designed to improve student learning in four main areas related to design, project management (PM), and teamwork: 1. Developing projects: Freshman: Show basic skills in breaking down assignments into team tasks Sophomore: Develop projects from a starting idea and functionally decompose them 2. Applying Scrum PM: Freshman: Show evidence of planning for their projects Sophomore: Apply Scrum PM more fully 3. Using project planning tools: Freshman: Learn the basics of project planning tools Sophomore: Use project planning tools effectively 4. Effective teamwork: Freshman: Run projects with minimal team conflict Sophomore: Demonstrate a deeper understanding of team dynamics

We have taught these courses twice with good results. Students have shown the creativity, motivation, and growth that we had hoped for, and student response to the courses has been positive. To assess our goals more rigorously, we have developed a set of rubrics for which we will present data and analysis. We will also discuss implementation details, such as recruitment and training of Scrum Masters from among our upper-classmen. We believe that our approach is effective and can be replicated elsewhere.

Pejcinovic, B., & Holtzman, M., & Wong, P. (2020, June), Work in Progress: Implementing Sophomore Cornerstone Courses in Electrical and Computer Engineering Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35648

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