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Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition

Conference Title

2004 ASEE Annual Conference


Driven in part by ABET Engineering Criteria 2000, engineering educators are increasingly integrating design concepts and experiences into their curricula. The most common form of this integration is the senior capstone design experience, although many universities also introduce basic notions of engineering design in the first year. Traditional coursework alone may not adequately prepare students for rigorous senior design experiences, however, and the role of senior capstone design in the curriculum is more summative than formative, leaving little room for remediation and subsequent improvement. First-year design experiences can provide context, motivation, and excitement, but first-year students are typically without the technical background to experience a genuine electrical and computer engineering (ECE) design process that fills an unmet need and addresses all of the tradeoffs between technical and nontechnical matters that occur in product design. For over 30 years, the undergraduate engineering programs at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) have featured a substantial senior capstone design project as one of three degree-required project experiences. While faculty reviews of the ECE design project reports consistently revealed that design content was consistent with WPI’s and ABET’s expectations, reviewers also noted that some considerations of the design process—for example safety, reliability, aesthetics, ethics, and social impact—were not evident from the report documentation. Similarly, not enough reports revealed appropriate use of simulation and design analysis steps, or consistently made clear how students synthesized designs from user requirements, design criteria, and technical specifications. These shortcomings were in some cases exacerbated by students’ lack of experience in applying fundamental principles in the context of the design process. The faculty concluded that a formative ECE design experience could address these issues. The WPI ECE Department instituted a sophomore-level course entitled “ECE Design” with the specific intent of better preparing students for their senior capstone design projects, both by reinforcing fundamental concepts and by leading the students through a formal design process with emphasis on the process itself. The course is run as a simulated business, with faculty serving as “Engineering Managers” who teach the process of design and manage the learning experience. The students are placed in 3-person design teams reporting to undergraduate “Senior Engineers”, who help guide them through an open-ended design of a useful product, from market research to demonstration of a working prototype. The students are given a working budget and a target product cost, and complete an economic analysis for their product. Their work is reported out on a weekly basis to the faculty, and at the end of the course to external evaluators in formal Design Reviews. Faculty and students both report that this intensive course has resulted in better-prepared students with a sense of pride in their accomplishments. It also serves as a valuable “checkpoint” for assuring that students understand and can apply basic material and concepts, and occurs early enough in the curriculum to allow remediation. The ECE Design course has become a de facto requirement for ECE students at WPI, as most faculty members require that students successfully complete the course before embarking on their senior design project. This paper will describe how and why the course was developed, how it is implemented, and what preliminary effects it has had on the curriculum and to the senior design projects. The learning outcomes associated with the course and their assessment will be discussed, as will the results of surveys reporting student behavior and attitudes with respect to the course.

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Copyright 2004, American Society for Engineering Education


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