Development and Implementation of a Hybrid Model for Integrating Online Learning in Interdisciplinary Engineering Design Courses
The following paper reports on the results of efforts at integrating online learning to the junior-level and capstone fifth-year-level interdisciplinary electromechanical and electromechanical/biomedical engineering design courses at Wentworth Institute of Technology. The motivation was to enhance student time management as well as develop an effective model of hybrid interdisciplinary engineering design course with the most appropriate technology. The junior-level course is an intense course where students are expected to complete an original design and a prototype in one semester. Project and time management are critical. The capstone project is made of a sequence of 2 semester courses and involves the same requirements as the junior design course. Groups typically include 3 to 5 members. Much of the work involves testing and prototype development in the labs and therefore requires the students’ presence on campus. On the other hand, a substantial amount of work does not require actual physical meetings or student presence on campus. This includes the writing of reports (proposal, 2 progress reports, weekly memos, and a final report), research work and communication. Also, the current meeting with the instructor at the weekly lab sessions for “consultations” and the weekly one-hour lecture may readily be provided online. The author has been teaching the junior design course every year for the last 5 years. Student feedback indicated consistently difficulties managing their time. As a possible improvement, the author has introduced, in the spring semester of 2010, the formation of virtual online groups whereby each group shares editing capability and the possibility of group videoconferencing. The author thought this would be especially helpful during Spring Break, and for commuting group members. It was expected this would help group members complete their reports more efficiently, and would lead to improved time management and efficiency, while making it easier for groups to manage and complete their projects. Assessment is based on a carefully designed anonymous survey of the students, and quantification of improvements in student performance, as well as the effects on teaching. Results were encouraging but indicated the need for some improvements, particularly in the software used. Benefits were observed both for the students and the instructor. In Fall 2010 and Spring 2011, the author taught capstone fifth-year electromechanical design. In addition, he taught again junior-level electromechanical and biomedical engineering design in Spring 2011 in Fall 2011, a senior capstone design and research project in biomedical engineering. He decided to extend the initiative introduced in junior design since Spring 2010. From both the student and instructor perspectives the experience has been very positive after implementation of improvements based on previous feedback. A number of the projects had a significant applied research component. The above approach provides a good model for a hybrid project-based education. This paper discusses the results of both the junior-level and capstone design experience and the lessons learned. Though the model was implemented in the context of interdisciplinary electromechanical and biomedical engineering, the author believes it applies to other areas of project based interdisciplinary engineering design.