With this framework, a proposed set of sub-projects will be presented to the student showing how the sub-projects are connected, allowing the student to choose his or her own path. The students can navigate through them in any order they choose, moving from core concepts to building sub-systems. The creation of these sub-systems provides students with the elements and experience needed to create the full Spectrophotometer while keeping the students engaged every step of the way.
The initial pilot tests with students last fall, completed in conjunction with the Tufts’ University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, validated this idea. Students reported feeling that there was always a way around the roadblocks. They liked having core concepts readily available and they benefited from the integration tasks in the sub-system projects. This leveled scaffolding helped them organize their efforts for the bigger design challenge.
The essence of the idea is to learn core concepts, then integrate them into a selection of sub-systems on the way to the final project destination. Completing these intermediate challenge experiences leaves students better prepared to finish the final design. Each design maps to multiple intermediate challenges and even more concepts, all of which the students can complete in any order they choose.
Also built into the framework is the option to change the final destination. For example, while you’re working on one of the Spectrophotometer project sub-systems, the map will show you that a Photophone is another design challenge that uses the LEDs and photodiodes that the student already understands. Maybe you want to build a brand new project or build a more robust final system. That’s OK. Let the map lead you there.
By creating roadmaps, we can prepare a student to think critically and decide the appropriate way to solve a problem, keeping him or her engaged every step of the way. The result is technically savvy engineering students who aren’t simply following a recipe, but who are prepared to become the next generation of innovative problem solvers.
Gretchen Edelmon, BS/MSEE, joined National Instruments in 1993, and took a brief hiatus in 2006 to teach middle school. She currently works on the NI Academic marketing team, where she guides worldwide courseware development efforts, with a focus on providing educators complete solutions that enable students to do engineering through hands-on, relevant experiences.