This Design Methodologies paper presents the design process and technology used to facilitate a first-year, service-learning based engineering design course at a large research university. The course is facilitated using a cloud-based collaboration tool called Slack which allows individuals to be organized and assigned to channels for easy dissemination of information. The nature of the Slack channels offered to students evolves throughout the semester to mirror the current needs of the design process. This paper presents the strategy used to leverage Slack and administer the design process in support of service-learning when logistical challenges and consistency are a primary concern.
Students begin the semester in the individual design phase and self-select into one of six project choices. In the individual design phase, they are offered Slack channels that help them understand the problem, learn foundational skills, and familiarize themselves with the course. After developing their ideas as an individual, private Slack channels are then provided that organize them into design teams for the group design phase. Using their group channel, students can ask for help from student assistants, share their design content and ideas easily, and collaborate, using the chat feature and apps that support connectivity. Once students complete the group design phase, they transition into the group fabrication phase and self-assign into roles. Public Slack channels are then provided that give the students support in their roles. Because the project choices are open ended and ill-posed, Slack also provides an opportunity to support the process of creative thinking which can be stressful for first-year students by providing them with consistent project support, clarification, and encouragement.
For this course, consistency of support was a main motivating factor for using Slack. Project choices are offered across 12 different sections taught by eight different faculty members. Slack allows for support to be centralized and managed towards a consistent design experience for all students. Service-learning also plays a part in the organization of the course into phases with community partner driven design reviews helping propel the students from one phase to the next. The course leverages Slack and its design phases to provide a structure that promotes collaboration and teamwork.
Strategies for engineering design instruction that leverage technology in useful ways are useful for practitioners. This paper provides the general structure of the course and its use of Slack so similar tools might be used at other institutions in support of engineering design instruction. In addition, large universities often face logistical challenges in the facilitation of substantial design experiences. The paper provides a strategy for how a phased approach might be administered. A similar approach might be necessary if a larger school seeks to provide project support to students but possesses limited resources.
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