This complete evidence-based practice paper presents a study on a new “class patent” system designed to increase first year engineering students’ interest, understanding, and knowledge retention in the area of intellectual property. We describe here the conception, implementation, and analysis of this semester-long experiential learning activity, which was designed to make patent and trade secret concepts more grounded, engaging, and fun for students. We also include lessons learned during the implementation of the class patent system, in order to assist instructors who want to implement a similar system in their courses.
The class patent system was implemented in a required, 4 credit-hour, first year engineering course at a medium-sized, private university. Course learning outcomes included topics in design and intellectual property, among a range of other foundational areas. Coursework included a major team-based, design-and-build project. This project had a slightly competitive aspect in that bonus points were awarded to the team that built the best project. Three years ago, one of the authors conceived and implemented a “class patent” system whereby teams could write and submit an application to patent a project idea. By patenting an idea, a team could hope to gain competitive advantage in achieving the best project.
As a pedagogical study, we sought to determine the effects of the class patent system on the class and learning outcomes. Specific research questions were: 1) What knowledge of patents and intellectual property protections have been retained from the class? 2) What role did the class patent system have on student learning outcomes related to the purpose and mechanics of patents? and 3) What role did the class patent system have on student experience in the class and, especially, the design project? A post-class student survey instrument was developed, and requests to complete the online survey were sent via email to all students who had taken the course while the class patent system was in place. This group covers the last two academic years, and the response rate to the survey was high at 53%.
The lead finding of this work is that there is a positive correlation between a student’s level of participation in the class patent system and the student’s knowledge retention in patents. In addition, students reported very favorable opinions of the class patent system, with 92% of the students reporting that the class patent system led to “some” or “a lot” of learning about intellectual property.
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