This complete research paper describes a first-year engineering course that has increased the proportion of open-ended projects to predefined projects being offered. This course teaches 320 students per semester with multidisciplinary labs and hands-on projects as the center of the course. Pilots for these projects were offered in Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 to about 15 students for Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 and about 30 students for the last two sessions. Positive feedback from students prompted further expansion, to 50 students, in Fall 2018 and a greater diversity of topics. There were three types of projects formulated based on the pilot sections: free-choice open-ended projects (free-choice OEP), prompt-based open-ended projects (prompt-based OEP), and predefined projects.
The free-choice OEPs allow students to propose a real-world problem they are interested in solving and develop a physical prototype throughout the semester. A more structured version of this project is the prompt-based OEP, where faculty, independent of their association with the course or within the course, provide prompts for students to develop ideas into working prototypes. The most structured projects are the predefined project choices which are projects with set goals and tasks. In Fall 2018, 13 groups participated in free-choice OEP projects, 2 groups in piloted prompt-based OEP projects, and the rest of the groups took part in predefined projects. The curriculum makes the students familiar with the engineering design process, computer-aided design (CAD), Arduino programming, prototyping, product development, and the integration of teamwork and project management.
This study examined the feedback from an end of the semester survey of 226 first-year students to evaluate their capabilities, preparedness, and interest in the project options. The results show that the split of students whose first choice would be free-choice, prompt-based, and predefined OEPs is 38%, 26%, and 36% respectively. This finding is in contrast to previous studies which found that free-choice open-ended projects were appropriate for 5-15 % of first-year students. Students who participated in predefined projects were more dissatisfied with their project choice and students who participated in open ended projects were more likely to want to continue working on their projects in the future based on statistically significant differences in survey responses. Students who participated in free-choice OEPs were also more interested in being a part of new projects in the future.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.