Published in American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, Volume Honolulu, HI, 2007, June 1, 2007.
One of our primary objectives is to equip undergraduate engineering students to be successful global engineers, ready to face the challenges of the 21st century. Students need to develop self-directed learning skills, systems level thinking, the ability to integrate principles of sustainability into design solutions and recognize that they serve a global community. Project-based learning (PBL) has been identified as an effective process for developing these skills; however, to be effective, project-based learning activities require a clearly articulated design methodology. Engineering students must learn to recognize the similarities and differences between the scientific and design methods. Both can be looked at as systems for solving problems; however, the input for the scientific method is a theory with the output being increased knowledge while the input for the design method is an application with the output being a device or process. Design is a method that involves both creativity and innovation but it is also constrained by such practical factors as time-to-market and cost-effectiveness. Throughout their undergraduate education students are immersed in the scientific method but often they are not exposed to design methods until their capstone senior project. We have developed a seven-step method that guides students through projects and enables them to achieve the skills we have identified as essential to their success as global engineers. The steps include 1) identifying user’s needs, 2) developing product concepts, 3) translating performance requirements from the language of the customer into technical functional requirements, 4) brainstorming several conceptual designs and choosing the optimum solution, 5) developing a detailed design solution, 6) fabricating a prototype and testing to ensure that it meets the performance requirements and 7) determining the commercial feasibility of the design solution. An example of how we implemented this design method in our junior level electrical and optical properties of materials course is presented along with an assessment of our student’s confidence in being able to apply the design method to the types of unstructured problems they faced in their PBL activities.
Materials Science and Engineering