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Work In Progress: Synthesizing design challenges to improve student effectiveness in first year engineering design courses

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2018 FYEE Conference


Glassboro, New Jersey

Publication Date

July 24, 2018

Start Date

July 24, 2018

End Date

July 26, 2018

Conference Session

Technical Session V

Tagged Topic

FYEE Conference Sessions

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Paper Authors


James R McCusker PhD Wentworth Institute of Technology

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James R. McCusker is an Associate Professor at Wentworth Institute of Technology in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Since joining Wentworth in 2010, he has been heavily involved with an array of interdisciplinary design courses that range from introductory to capstone courses.

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Aaron Carpenter Wentworth Institute of Technology

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Professor Carpenter is an Assistant Professor at the Wentworth Institute of Technology. In 2012, he completed his PhD at the University of Rochester, and now focuses his efforts to further the areas of computer architecture, digital systems, cybersecurity, and computer engineering education.

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Engineering Design is a common component of first year engineering curriculums. Various methods have been employed and studied to improve the overall effectiveness of the activities in design courses, including modifying the makeup of student design teams, integrating real world design problems, and employing student design competitions. However, the challenges and uncertainty of real-world practice are difficult to emulate in an academic exercise. In order to address this, synthesized design challenges are integrated into a first-year engineering design course. In Introduction to Engineering Design the evaluated university, all first-year engineering students work in teams to develop a solution to a societal need that is identified and researched by the student team. Over approximately 8 weeks of the semester, students formulate their design objectives, identify required functions and design constraints, propose a realistic solution, and implement and evaluate their solutions. Throughout this process, all students must maintain a design notebook that documents all aspects of their design development. This notebook details the students brainstorming processes, technical details, and overall design progress, particularly using iterative design methodology. The synthesized challenge to emulate uncertainty and change in project goals takes the form of a sudden modification to the design objectives and functions by reassigning teams to alternate projects. In approximately the fourth week of the project, all design notebooks are collected and provided to another team in the course. Students are told they are now in charge of this other project, and their own project will be completed by another team. Students must utilize the other team’s notes to propose a plan to implement and evaluate the design that is documented, as though they will complete it. Along with the proposed plan, students are also required to provide feedback on the quality of the design notes and indicate areas for which there are deficiencies. At the conclusion of the exercise (approximately one week), students are returned to their original project for the duration of the semester, possibly incorporating the feedback from the temporary team. This is meant to emulate a real-world workplace, where employees are often reassigned to new projects with little advanced notice. Similarly, employees often need to rely on the previous team members notes and documentation, here focusing on the engineering design notebook.

The effectiveness of this approach is assessed by evaluating the quality of student design notes before and after the project-switch exercise. Student feedback is also solicited to allow for self-reflection and to assess the projects plan for the design team that was temporarily assigned to their project. The authors hope to engage in a spirited discussion on employing similar methods to challenge students in first year design.

McCusker, J. R., & Carpenter, A. (2018, July), Work In Progress: Synthesizing design challenges to improve student effectiveness in first year engineering design courses Paper presented at 2018 FYEE Conference, Glassboro, New Jersey. 10.18260/1-2--31434

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