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Work in Progress: Introducing Students to Human-Centered Design in a Design for Manufacturability Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Empathy and Human-Centered Design 1

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Alexander Pagano University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Alex Pagano is a PhD student studying a variety of research questions related to engineering technology and education. He received his B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Arizona in 2015 and his M.S. in Mechanical Science and Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018.

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Saadeddine Shehab University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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A Postdoc Research Associate at the Siebel Center for Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; studies the role of the teacher in implementing and assessing collaborative problem solving in STEM classrooms

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Leon Liebenberg University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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For the past 25 years, Leon Liebenberg has been engaged in engineering teaching, research, and community engagement. He was a professor of mechanical engineering at two South African universities (University of Pretoria; North West University), before becoming a higher education consultant in Switzerland where he worked with colleges of engineering and technology management.
Leon is passionate about multidisciplinary research, particularly in the fields of energy engineering, biomedical engineering, and engineering education. His university research has focused on development of industrial energy-efficient technologies and cancer therapies using energy restriction methods. His published research works enjoy an h-index of 22.
Leon’ first love is however for teaching. He co-developed and taught a unique freshman course on “Innovation”, where students work in so-called “whole-brain” thinking teams when addressing technological problems. These helped show that innovation for a sustainable world can be maximised by the convergence of natural sciences, engineering sciences, and the arts.
At the UIUC, Leon is a teaching associate professor and he is currently engaged in developing gamification platforms for use in the mechanical engineering curriculum. The intention is to promote deep learning and improved engagement of students in subject matter. Leon is collaborating with colleagues from various disciplines in this venture.
He also founded the TechnoLab technology awareness facility for junior engineering students and for school children, where the learners work in small teams to solve problems using Lego Dacta and other didactic equipment. The TechnoLab model has been adopted by several South African schools since its inception in 1997. Leon also founded the Space and Aviation Challenge for school learners in South Africa, which aimed at demystifying the aeronautical engineering profession. The Challenge was annually presented for several years in collaboration with Nasa’s Dryden Lab who offered the first prize for a learner to attend Space Camp USA.
Leon teaches a variety of subjects, including: Innovation; Statics; Dynamics; Thermodynamics; Fluid Mechanics; Design for Manufacturability; Machine Design; Heat Transfer; Aerodynamics; Aeronautics; and Advanced Heat and Mass Transfer.
Leon holds doctoral and master’s degrees from Imperial College London and from the University of Johannesburg. Leon and his wife enjoy meeting people, engaging with local communities, reading, photography, hiking, cycling, and spending time with their cats.

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Modern engineering curricula increasingly seek to include experiential or project-based design in order to better prepare engineering graduates for industry. The human-centered design approach offers scaffolding that enables novices to develop solutions which address the underlying needs of stakeholders. By integrating engineering experiential learning (e.g. manufacturing labs, product dissection) with human-centered design practices (e.g. empathizing with stakeholders, using narrative methods to share ideas and get feedback) students can develop skills that expand on those gained from traditional engineering problem sets, and more closely resemble real-world engineering practice. This benefit relies on the successful implementation of design lessons in engineering classes which often depends on the graduate teaching assistants (TAs) who lead discussion or laboratory sections. This work-in-progress paper describes the implementation of an activity that introduces human-centered design to students in a Design for Manufacturability course. It explores the TAs’ experiences of implementing this activity to provide insights into the challenges of teaching design in engineering classes and to seek ways to overcome these challenges. This study is part of a design-based implementation research project that is led by a newly established Design Center at a large Midwestern University [blinded for review]. The center coordinates with faculty members on campus to integrate human-centered design concepts in their courses. The study took place in an undergraduate engineering course that introduced 190 sophomore students to Design for Manufacturability tools and methodologies. In Fall 2019, there were 15 laboratory sections of this course. Each section had 12 to 15 students and was facilitated by two graduate teaching assistants. TAs first received a one-hour training session on human-centered design from a Senior Design Strategist at the Design Center, and a one-hour training session on storytelling techniques from an industrial enterprise and systems engineer. In the first week of laboratory sessions, the TAs implemented an activity that engaged students in redesigning a staple remover using a human-centered design approach. Then in the second week, students communicated their redesign strategies and outcomes to their peers using storytelling techniques by creating a poster and presenting it in lab. Classroom observations were collected from two laboratory sections and the two TAs of these sections were interviewed. The preliminary analysis of classroom observations shows that the TAs introduced human-centered design using a presentation and accompanying activity guide. Students worked in dyads or triads to complete the activity while TAs facilitated discussions between group members as needed. The preliminary analysis of the interviews shows that the TAs thought that the human-centered design offered a new lens for engineering work; however, they expressed difficulty in explaining to students how to apply human-centered design processes. Both TAs also mentioned the importance of interactions amongst students, and the challenges associated with initiating and facilitating those interactions. Future work will involve providing all 190 students with questionnaires to understand their experiences with this activity and its impact on their experiences throughout the course.

Pagano, A., & Shehab, S., & Liebenberg, L. (2020, June), Work in Progress: Introducing Students to Human-Centered Design in a Design for Manufacturability Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35659

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