The Development of a First Year Design Project: Focusing on Creativity, Independence, and Design Understanding
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The goal of many first-year courses is to engage and inspire students to continue with a degree in engineering. Other goals from our faculty include that students be accountable for their own learning and engage specifically in the engineering design process. In order to take on all of the above goals, the first-year design project in our Introduction to Mechanical Systems course has been re-developed over the past few years to focus on creativity, independence, and design understanding.
The original project, which was developed in 2012, required students to design a child’s “shooting toy” that was tasked at launching a given object the maximum distance possible. For this task the students were given a list of design requirements for their toy, including limits on size, material, etc. Students went through an abbreviated version of the engineering design process in a three-week period. While students enjoyed the project overall, they commented that they would appreciate more time, more design freedom, an ability to prototype, and a more hands-on experience with the printing process, as teaching assistants printed the parts for them.
Over the past seven years changes were made to help address the desires of the students and faculty, and also take advantage of the new innovation floor. The current project, which takes place over seven-weeks, requires students to design and build a high-fidelity prototype of a children’s toy. The only requirements are that the toy should be appropriate for 3-5 year-old children, contain at least one simple machine, and contain at least one part that the students designed in SolidWorks and 3D printed themselves. This more open-ended project means that students have to go through parts of the design process not previously required, including developing their own constraints and criteria, building and testing prototypes, and manufacturing 3D printed parts themselves.
An exit project evaluation survey has been given to the students over the past 5 years in order to measure the students’ feelings towards certain aspects of the project. In 2018 students indicated stronger agreement for statements including After the final project my understanding of engineering design improved and Overall I liked the final project. Additionally students showed stronger agreement for the statement I found the final project to be frustrating in 2018, showing that students had an increase in frustration from the project, however the comments from students also indicated that their frustrations came from wanting the design to work well and learning their own current limitations as first-year students, traits that could help them grow as they continue in their studies. While the development of this project, and the rest of the associated course, to meet the needs of first-year students is an ongoing process, the lessons learned over the past several years have helped develop a project that allows for design freedom, student independence, and experience with the full engineering design process.
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