Published in 2006 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings: Chicago, IL, June 18, 2006.
Intercollegiate design competitions are a popular means to engage students in design activities that extend beyond the curriculum. When students gather around a project in their spare time and use their classroom skills to design, build, and test a product for an intercollegiate competition, something amazing happens: They develop a passion for engineering. This paper discusses the key benefits to engineering undergraduate students that flow from involvement in a team design competition. Advisor involvement plays a key role in both project success and student learning throughout the process. Different approaches to advising student competition teams are compared. Specific examples are taken from the authors' experience with Formula SAE, SAE Mini Baja, and ASME's Human Powered Vehicle competitions.
Responsibility for making the most effective educational use of a design competition is shared between the students, the faculty advisor, and the competition organizers. Design competitions build student enthusiasm; however, there are some things they learn that we may not want to be teaching. Some of the educational shortcomings of these activities are highlighted, with suggestions on how to manage them. In particular, this article focuses on the risks of (a) distraction from classes, (b) a build-and-test approach, (c) advisor co-opted designs, and (d) design changes for their own sake. The influence of the advisor and the competition rules on each of these concerns will be discussed. Finally, the competitions themselves will be investigated to see how the form of the events may be improved to further enhance the learning opportunities for the students.
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