This paper presents an innovative, interdisciplinary, design-and-build course created to improve placement, content, and pedagogy for introductory engineering design education. Infused at the freshman level, the course aims to promote expert design thinking by using problem-based learn- ing (PBL) as the mode of delivery. The course is structured to actively engage the students in the various phases of a prescriptive design-and-build cycle using ill-structured, open-ended problems inspired from industry, and is supported by technological tools such as robotics kits and rapid prototyping machines. One of the main contributions is the integration of the prescriptive design cycle with PBL to promote effective inquiry and the systematic, iterative interplay between divergent and convergent questioning in the engineering design process. The inherent alignment of PBL pedagogy and the prescriptive design cycle enhances students’ ability to tackle complex challenging problems and reach optimal solutions by following an iterative loop of divergent-convergent processing and decision making. In the post-analysis, the course has two significant positive impacts on students: 1) as measured by a newly developed design attitudes survey, course graduates are 20 ± 5% more likely than other engineering students to express attitudes consistent with professional engineers regarding problem-solving practices in the engineering design process, and 2) a measure of teams’ adherence to the course’s prescribed design cycle are moderate-to-strongly correlated (p ~ 0.66, > 90% confidence) with the quality of the finished design, as measured by live, in-class demonstrations.
GEORGE WESLEY HITT