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Workshop: Using Open-Ended Design Projects to Foster Creativity, Entrepreneurial Mindset, and Motivation

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2021 First-Year Engineering Experience



Publication Date

August 9, 2021

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August 9, 2021

End Date

August 21, 2021

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Anoop Singh Grewal Arizona State University

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Anoop Grewal ( is a lecturer at Arizona State University in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of engineering since 2014. He received his doctorate in Mechanical and Aerospace engineering (in the field of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics) from Cornell University. His research background is in robotics but his passion lies in engineering education. At ASU he is part of the instructional team for “Introduction to Engineering”, a multidisciplinary project based course. He also teaches various mechanical engineering courses e.g. Engineering Mechanics, System Dynamics and Controls. His teaching philosophy is to promote instinctive/inherent understanding of engineering concepts, and productive student-faculty interactions.

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Mark Vincent Huerta Arizona State University

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Mark Huerta ( is a lecturer within the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University (ASU) with a focus on teaching project-based learning courses focused on engineering/human-centered design, service-learning and humanitarian engineering. He is also the Co-Founder and Chairman of 33 Buckets, a non-profit that provides sustainable clean water access solutions in the developing world. Mark has experiences as a teacher, researcher, engineer, social entrepreneur, and in higher education program management. He earned his PhD in Engineering Education at ASU and also has a BS/MS in Biomedical Engineering.

Mark’s research interests revolve around developing engineers capable of leading and enacting positive change on their communities. His research explores the topics of entrepreneurial mindset, innovation, well-being, leadership, interpersonal skills, and other 21st century competencies. Mark has experiences in teaching and mentoring engineering students in human-centered design, social entrepreneurship, humanitarian engineering, leadership, and mindfulness.

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Workshop: Using Open-Ended Design Projects to Foster Creativity, Entrepreneurial Mindset, and Motivation


This workshop is designed for faculty who are interested in learning about how to use open-ended projects (OEPs) in their engineering courses: in-person or online. Open ended projects, as presented in the workshop, are a great way to promote creativity, entrepreneurial-thinking, and motivation within freshman (or higher) engineering design courses. This workshop will include a toolkit of resources to plan and manage such OEPs, especially those that include a physical-build component and require interdisciplinary skills. Presenters will share their experiences and results in running these projects for the past few years, in both online and in-person “Introduction to Engineering” courses.

Open-ended Projects - Significance

In an OEP, the central theme is that the teams of students define their own design challenge, usually within a focus area (e.g. automation, IoT, biomedical applications etc.). This choice is heavily linked to their motivation and creativity. Consequently the students take a lead in navigating the design process, learning and applying engineering tools (e.g. 3D modeling, prototyping, Arduino) to develop a solution that creates value for their respective users. Many often go beyond the class expectations and take charge of their learning, in quite an inspirational way. An important part of OEPs as we implement them is to make the project ‘real’ by requiring the students to design for specific customers or users whom they will interact with personally. The project is essentially run like a mini-capstone. Students practice entrepreneurial-thinking through customer interviews, pitch presentations, and design reviews to ensure they are actually addressing a need or problem and creating value for their potential customers. Due to the ill-defined, open-ended nature of the projects, students must learn to deal with uncertainty and self-regulate their learning. Students continuously practice their communication, teamwork, and leadership skills throughout the project and must apply project management tools to plan ahead and delegate tasks amongst team members. Still, the project is scaffolded through various checkpoints and deliverables that are focused on keeping project teams on-track and providing substantive feedback. Students are held accountable and given feedback on their performance through periodic CATME peer evaluations and a flexible grading structure.

After experiencing an OEP, students are much more likely to participate in out-of-class engineering activities, e.g., engineering clubs, research projects, and even business ventures or start-ups.

Workshop Outline - What will the participants gain?

We’ll start the workshop with a quick overview of elements needed for execution of OEPs within an engineering design course. We’ll provide a toolkit of resources that includes 1) Ways to cultivate necessary technical and non-technical skills needed before the students start the project e.g. engineering design process, modeling, CAD, coding (Arduino), teamwork and project management. 2) Course planning documents with the lectures/labs and assessments to go along with the project. Tips on when to introduce a project. 3) Overview of all the assignments including procedures involved and required materials.

To make the ideas more concrete for our participants, we’ll showcase how we have run open-ended projects in our in-person and online courses for the past few years, as explained above. We will provide a variety of examples of students' projects from the past (including prototypes, videos, and demonstrations) themed around household and commercial automation. These projects will showcase how the customers were involved in the design process to make the projects more ‘real’ and entrepreneurial in spirit. They will clearly show how the students, motivated intrinsically, displayed creativity in choosing the problems to solve from their everyday lives. After this brief presentation we’ll open the room for discussion. Attendees may share their own experiences with OEPs: What worked? What can be improved? We will be sure to share lessons learned based on our own personal experiences and will provide the student perspective through testimonials and student evaluation data. Next, workshop participants will begin designing their own open-ended projects. Participants will choose their own project focus area and begin forming a plan for how they will develop necessary skills among students and scaffold the project. They will create a draft of a course planning document involving lectures and activities within a timeline to manage the final project. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and get feedback. Workshop will conclude by offering attendees the resources to continue their plans and help to overcome any issues. Our goal is that attendees will also leave with a strong plan on how to successfully implement an OEP in their class. An additional goal is to form research collaborations that evaluate the efficacy of OEP and their impact on student learning including creativity, motivation, life-long learning, and interpersonal competencies.

Grewal, A. S., & Huerta, M. V. (2021, August), Workshop: Using Open-Ended Design Projects to Foster Creativity, Entrepreneurial Mindset, and Motivation Paper presented at 2021 First-Year Engineering Experience, Virtual .

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