The Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology Criterion 5 states that an accredited undergraduate engineering curriculum must include a capstone design process to better prepare its graduates for careers in engineering. One common pedagogical approach to teaching design focuses on problem-based learning and includes clinical immersion and educational experiences that simulate a real-world industrial design process and encourage creativity, innovation and teamwork. In line with modern practices, our program’s design sequence focuses on system engineering and includes key phases of project definition, system-level design, prototype development, and verification and validation. In the last revision, we restructured our design curriculum to ensure better continuity of design topics, to facilitate collaborative projects with industry partners, and to alleviate various academic challenges noted by faculty and indicated by students in the course evaluation questionnaires. Student assessment data that motivated this change was presented as work-in-progress at the ASEE 2018 annual meeting.
We reduced the duration of the capstone sequence from seven to four academic quarters and delayed its start to the spring term of the junior year with system design and development to be carried out in the senior year. The total credit load was reduced from thirteen to nine credits. Professional topics such as intellectual property, FDA regulations and standards which were previously covered somewhat superficially and lacked continuity, were moved to two new courses, Professional Topics in Biomedical Engineering and Biomedical Device Evaluation. The placement of these courses in the program track ensured that the timing and coverage of these topics are well aligned with the students’ progression in the design process. In this study, we evaluated the effects of the curricular change on student learning by assessing the students’ ability (a) to apply a systematic approach to identifying design inputs and outputs, and verifying their attainment; (b) to apply appropriate research and analysis tools; (c) to develop a functional prototype; (d) to work functionally as a team; (e) to stay continuously engaged. The assessment approach was three-pronged: (1) senior-exit surveys, (2) individual student performance questionnaires completed by the instructors, and (3) in-person instructor-led senior-exit debriefing session. The assessments were conducted upon completion of the design sequence. Consistency in responses among the three instruments was sought as an indication of a valid observation. Mann Whitney U-test was used to test for statistical significance (p<0.005). In May 2018, 42 seniors completed the old sequence and 27 of them participated in the assessment. In May 2019, 43 seniors completed the new sequence and 22 of them were assessed using the same methods.
We found that the curriculum changes significantly (p<0.005) improved students’ engagement in the design process and did not negatively affect the students’ ability to successfully complete their projects in a timely manner. Furthermore, the data indicated that the duration of the new design sequence was perceived by students as neither too long nor too short and allowed for timely content delivery by the instructors.
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