Technology to Deliver Service Learning in Introductory Engineering Courses

Collection: 
Student-Generated Content
Author Information
Author(s): 
Ramakrishnan Sundaram
Author(s): 
Tinukwa Boulder
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Gannon University, Erie, PA
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 
This practice is about the delivery of content and rubrics for assessment of learning outcomes in the redesigned version of the critical entry-level course, First-Year Seminar course in Engineering, for undergraduate engineering students. The First-Year Seminar in Engineering at our institution is offered once each year during the fall term. The course comprises 45 to 50 first-year students who will graduate with engineering degrees from four-year programs. The redesign of this course was necessitated by the (1)disparate nature of the content from session to session(2) lack of continuity across sessions, and (3) absence of a common thread to bind the content of the course. For the incoming engineering student to receive both the holistic University experience and develop the ability to learn and retain fundamental engineering principles and practices, the course has been redesigned to incorporate community-based engineering projects as the core theme of the course. The students formed teams, and maintained team-based blogs to document their progress on the engineering project. In addition to the traditional learning outcomes assessment methods (e.g. in-class testing, homework assignments, individual and group reports), rubrics were developed to assess the performance of the students in the engineering projects.
Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 
The description of this presentation consists of the following sections.
1.      Context of the project – course redesign
2.      Approach to course redesign
3.      Delivery and assessment of redesigned course

            4. Conclusions

1.      Context of the project – course redesign
This proposal discusses the creative use of technology to (a) overcome the weaknesses identified in a First-Year Seminar in Engineering (FYSE ) course (b) teach engineering design and practice in the context of society and values (c) instill the recognition of engineering issues and concerns, and (d) incorporate reflection and collaboration at this early stage of the student’s academic career. The First-Year Seminar in Engineering (FYSE) is a critical entry-level course for undergraduate engineering majors in accredited degree programs (accreditation by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) at institutions of higher education. The course is designed to orient new students to the University and introduce engineering as a professional field. The course is also designed to link knowledge and application of engineering principles to professional ethics and values, and to develop students academically and personally. The FYSE course comprises nine course outcomes that are mapped to a specific ABET-approved student learning outcome. Student performance in each course outcome is measured by key assignments. These assignments measure the proficiency of students to meet course outcomes and provide justification for the ABET learning outcome. The typical enrollment in this course is approximately fifty students who are expected to graduate with engineering degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Environmental Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering.
 
In the past, this course has been taught in loosely organized sessions of engineering and non-engineering topics during a fifteen week semester. Specifically, these topics relate to (a) the liberal core (b) engineering fundamentals (c) literacy in computing and information technology (d) engineering lab activities. The summative assessment of the student learning outcomes has revealed glaring weaknesses in content and delivery. These weaknesses relate to (a) the disparate nature of the content from session to session (b) lack of continuity across sessions (c) absence of a common thread to bind the content of the course. For the incoming engineering student to receive both the holistic University experience and develop the ability to learn and retain fundamental engineering principles and practices, the course required redesigning. The redesign was implemented by incorporating community-based engineering projects as the core theme of the course.
 
2.      Approach to course redesign
The approach to course redesign addressed the weaknesses mentioned by integrating community-based engineering projects comprising service learning components. Service learning is of vital importance in the engineering profession and must be integrated into the engineering curriculum at an early stage of career development. In addition, the creative inclusion of technology, specifically, team blogs helped students’ application of engineering fundamentals to their engineering and service learning projects. The use of team blogs creates the most effective environment for the students to reflect and collaborate on the application of engineering design principles and practices taught in the course to their engineering projects. In addition, the integration of team blogs assists students to make connections between the four inter-related topics; the liberal core, engineering fundamentals, computing literacy and engineering lab activities. Team blogs helped the students understand how liberal core values are embedded in engineering design practices and project management.
Students work in teams and have ownership of the community-based engineering project similar to what they would experience in the workplace after four years in the baccalaureate program. The students in each team identified a team leader who was responsible for the content and organization of the blog page. The students acquire the essential communication and leadership skills, improve their understanding of fundamental engineering principles and design practices, and recognize the relationship of the engineering profession to ethics and moral values.
     
3. Delivery and assessment of redesigned course
First, the sessions of the course were reorganized as course modules. The content of these modules provided the foundation for the students to work on the core theme of the course. The core theme comprised a pool of engineering projects identified in the community by the Center for Social Concerns at our institution. The list of community-based engineering projects included (a) install a solar-panel (b) design, build and install a garden fence (c) identify roofing materials for energy-efficient buildings (d) design up-cycled furniture and fixtures (e) design and build a composting bin for organic matter (f) recondition medical equipment for use in the clinics of developing countries.
The highlights of the delivery of the redesigned course are as follows.
  • 51 students were enrolled in the class
  • Thirteen teams worked on the six service learning projects listed above
  • Team leaders received training to create and maintain team blogs
  • Teams completed and submitted peer assessments weekly
  • Teams documented their progress on the project using their team blogs and provided progress reports as part of the formative assessment
  • Teams submitted the final report and updated the entries on their team blog page
  • Team blog assessment and summative assessment were completed at the end of the term
The following rubrics were identified to assess the course and learning outcome specific to the service learning experience; (a) team blog (b) formative (in-class presentation – update (c) summative (final report on the project) and (d) peer or internal (intra-team performance).
 
 
4. Conclusions

Service learning integrated into introductory engineering courses and supported by technology, such as team blogs, instills the essential traits of reflection and collaboration in the academic growth of future engineers. In addition, the students relate classroom content to engineering problems in the community and comprehend the constraints of engineering projects and requirements in practice. They develop valuable communication and leadership skills through team work, establish contact with the community to gain a better understanding of its needs, and use the experiences to strengthen their preparation toward successful careers in engineering.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 
The redesigned First-Year Seminar course in Engineering was delivered in the Fall 2011 semester (August 2011 to December 2011) at our University. The following highlights of the delivery are noted.
·         51 students were enrolled in the class
·         They formed 13 team to work on the six service learning projects identified earlier in this paper (more than one team assigned to the same project)
·         Team leaders received training on the creation and maintenance of team blogs
·         Teams completed and submitted peer assessments each week
·         Teams documented their progress on the project using their team blogs
·         Teams provided progress reports as part of the formative assessment during the term
·         Teams submitted the final report and updated the entries on their team blog page
·         Team blog assessment and summative assessment were completed at the end of the term
How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

This practice relates closely to the following pillars.

Learning effectiveness, student satisfaction

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

Web access - ability to create and maintain a team blog

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Bill of materials for different community projects ranging from $100 to $150 per team.

References, supporting documents: 
[1] Tsang  E. and Zlotkowski E. (eds.), “Projects that Matter: Concepts and             
      Models for Service-Learning in Engineering,” AAHE Series on
      Service-Learning in the Disciplines, 2007.
 
[2]  Jamieson, L. H., Oakes, W. C. & Coyle, E.J., “EPICS: Serving the
      community through engineering design projects,” Learning to Serve:
      Promoting Civil Society through Service Learning,  pp. 277-295,
      Norwell, MA, Kluwer Academic, 2002.
 
[3] Sundaram, R., “Work In Progress: Integration of Topic Modules and
       Organization of Session Flow for the First-Year Seminar Course in
       Engineering to Motivate and Sustain Student Learning, “ Proceedings
       of the 2011 Frontiers in Education, Rapid City, SD, Oct. 2011.
Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Dr. Ramakrishnan Sundaram
Email this contact: 
sundaram001@gannon.edu