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Work in Progress: Oh ... The Irony (A Six-Section Rube Goldberg Machine for Freshman Engineering Design)

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Tuesday 5-Minute Work-in-Progress Postcard Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Julian Ly Davis University of Southern Indiana

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Jul is an Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Southern Indiana (USI). He received his Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in Engineering Mechanics in 2007. He spent a semester teaching at community college in the area and then spent two years at University of Massachusetts continuing his research in finite element modeling and biomechanics and continuing to teach. He has been at USI since 2010.

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Arthur L. Chlebowski University of Southern Indiana

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Arthur Chlebowski received his M.S. and Ph.D. from the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University in 2009 and 2012 respectively, where he worked towards the development and integration of an implantable pressure monitoring device for Glaucoma. He then went on to work at the Jackson Laboratory in the Simon John Lab, continuing his research as a post doc and research scientist. In 2014, he took a position at the University of Southern Indiana in the engineering department, slightly switching his focus to external monitoring devices. He has taught upper level and lower level courses regarding engineering, including the programs introductory freshman design course.

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David J. Ellert PE University of Southern Indiana

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Dave Ellert teaches freshman engineering problem solving, computer aided drafting and design (CAD) and computer programming. He has a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. Dave has been on the USI Department of Engineering faculty since 2003.

Dave is a licensed professional engineer registered in the state of Indiana. Prior to teaching, Dave worked 18 years as a consulting engineer designing HVAC systems for buildings.

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This Work-In-Progress paper discusses the experience within a freshman engineering design course in which students are asked to conceive, design, implement and operate a Six-Section Rube Goldberg machine. Often in the first year of an engineering curriculum there is a project based class designed to introduce students to, motivate students about, and retain students within the engineering discipline. They also begin to instill skills such as: 1. Team Work 2. Systems Engineering through Experimentation, Testing, and CAD & physical Modeling 3. Written Communication 4. Oral Communication 5. Time Management 6. Team Management At this institution, our project based class allows students to develop these skills and expressly enforces two avenues of technical communication: between and among Teams. Constant communication, between and among teams, is included to simulate a workplace environment where workers are not limited to their singular work teams, but to share their designs, knowledge, and ideas with the other participating teams within a project. This was accomplished by asking a class to conceive, design, implement, and operate a Six-Section Rube Goldberg machine (a system with many complicated steps to accomplish a simple task – an inefficient design) that included the use of a Lego-NXT robot and $45 worth of 3D printed material. Each of the teams (~4 students per team) were required to conceive, design, implement and operate their own 15 step Rube Goldberg section with a final task of all 6 sections working as a homogeneous machine. Significant improvement over previous implementations of the course, where students rotated projects at the end of each project phase, came in the form of overall class atmosphere and team/project success. This project & class design allowed student to become invested in the project, as they took ownership of their section of the Rube Goldberg machine. In addition, students were able to succeed within their teams (their 15 step section was operational) even if the whole Six-Section Rube Goldberg did not operate effectively all the time. This paper discusses the results of a carefully crafted project in a freshman engineering design course that maintains multiple avenues of technical communication (between and among teams) through reports, presentations, and graphics. It also provides opportunities to teach students about time and team management. Finally, the project requires students to proceed through a rigorous design process. The project allows for creativity within the design; however, we also accept the irony of the fact that typically Rube Goldberg Machines are designed to do a simple task through an inefficient process; engineers are usually searching for efficient designs and solutions to problems. Overall, the project was warmly received.

Davis, J. L., & Chlebowski, A. L., & Ellert, D. J. (2017, June), Work in Progress: Oh ... The Irony (A Six-Section Rube Goldberg Machine for Freshman Engineering Design) Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29173

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