This full paper describes the design, implementation, and reception of a prototype-based design project for first-year engineering students in an introductory course. This project was introduced in a course that previously lacked any physical design elements due to the limited access to prototyping equipment. Prior student projects were limited to design and computer modeling and simulation elements only, with hands-on activities restricted to measurement-based labs. The new project incorporated concept development by the students along with physical prototyping of their design using and a combination of reusable components and disposable inexpensive supplies. The project was created based on research findings on the effectiveness of experiential learning, particularly hands-on and project-based learning.
The new project consisted of a line-following robot using Arduino kits and a custom made chassis designed by the students. The students needed to assemble the components, calibrate the sensors, update and install the code, and design and build the chassis for the robot. The students were encouraged to minimize their design according to cost, weight, and time required for the robot to navigate along a course. The open-ended nature of the project allowed for students to optimize the code, improve the aesthetics of their design, or change up the circuitry of the robot in order to have the best performance. Students in the honors sections of the course were able to produce 3D printed parts for their robot chassis, while students in the standard sections used beta prototyping to make their chassis out of low fidelity materials, such as cardboard, popsicle sticks, duct tape, and glue.
At this point in time the project is in its third semester of implementation. Over 300 students and 12 separate faculty members have undertaken this project. Students were surveyed to see the short-term impact of the project on student learning, and eventually the long term impact on student retention. The students who have opted in to the study will be tracked to see the effect of this project on student retention rates compared to engineering students who participated in the previous computer-only design projects in this course.
This paper describes the project in detail, the results of student surveys and impact the project had on students and faculty reception. Suggestions for how similar projects can be implemented at other schools are shared.
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