389653 Transforming a Basic Engineering Skills Course into a Freshman Design Course with Business Simulation Elements
Foundations in Engineering is a first-year course taught in the second semester at the University of Connecticut. All Engineering students must take this class, regardless of major. Individual sections are taught by a member of each department, traditionally in a lecture format, with the purpose of developing skills that are transferable to other engineering disciplines. The Chemical Engineering section of Foundations in Engineering became the first section to be taught as a project-based design course with business elements in the Spring 2014 semester.
Students were divided into teams (called “companies”) and were asked to complete three projects, each with a different set of constraints and design goals in mind. The first project had students build a thermos that was both effective at keeping a vial of water cool, and minimized the weight as these thermoses would be used in shipping. The second project tasked the students to build a water filter that could remove color and particulates while being easy for a hypothetical camper to use and assemble. Finally, students build a baking soda and vinegar powered Chem-E-Car, which needed to be accurate, fuel efficient, and transport passengers (simulated by packing peanuts) without injury.
During each project, companies were given a budget of class-specific currency, which they used to buy materials, machine their devices, and test devices. Deliverables for the class took the form of a short proposal with an expected timetable of major design milestones, a progress report explaining early findings and considerations to be made in the final design, and a final presentation of their device that included a budget for their project. Each company’s final device was also tested and compared amongst the performance of the other companies’ devices. Rather than have device performance factor into a student’s grade, building the best device would contribute to a student’s extra credit score.
Based on pre- and post-course student attitude surveys, students seemed to somewhat enjoy the new approach to teaching the course overall. Most of the class enjoyed purchasing materials and the monetary budgeting aspects of the class. Students felt more receptive to working in groups and more comfortable presenting data to their peers at the completion of the course. Other student feedback provided insight into modifications to be made in future semesters.