In the spirit of developing a more holistic engineering curriculum, an expected element of the pedagogy would involve students collaborating with one another to achieve a common, yet non-trivial, goal. The first year of engineering is certainly not devoid of team-based projects, but those experiences rarely offer a compelling parallel to the work of practicing engineers, particularly with respect to interacting with clients and making a difference in lives of others. As an attempt to better characterize engineering work and service in the first year, a project was introduced in 2014 to engage teams of first-year programming students (primarily consisting of computer engineering and computer science majors) at a small private Midwestern university to develop software applications for use in various educational outreach efforts as a culminating “cornerstone” project in their introductory programming sequence. These teams were joined by upper-level education majors, whose roles evolved over the years from serving as a client liaison to part of an interdisciplinary team of senior and junior partners.
The structure of the project was intentionally designed utilizing Kolb’s Experiential Learning cycle to cultivate a culture of formative assessment with multiple touch-points throughout the project and, in later offerings, throughout the semester. A key tool was the adoption of the single point rubric instrument as a feedback mechanism. A single point rubric is like an analytic rubric, save that only one column – that of “Proficiency” – contains a performance descriptor for a criterion. This column is flanked by “Mastery” and “Developing” columns where blank spaces are provided for the assessor to write comments explaining why the student’s work was above or below the expected level of performance. These rubrics were later used to help assess team progress through the duration of the project, allowing for corrective actions (in the form of targeted lecture material or supplemental handouts) to be taken if necessary. For example, opportunity for formative feedback was a science-fair-style critical design review with members of the university community including faculty from both education and engineering serving as judges. In addition, since the project was pitched to the students as an outreach effort, the Community Services Attitudes Scale survey administered both before and after the project to examine changes in the programming students’ attitude toward community service. Open-ended responses to end-of-course surveys were also collected for feedback to improve the project in future offerings.
This paper describes the dynamics of the collaboration between the first-year computing and upper-level education majors as the models of interaction changed over the first four years that the project has been offered. In addition, the paper will describe the learned from developing the project and how it was assessed, including references to subsequent research spin-offs. Design principles for transferability to other programs wishing to implement a similar project structure are provided as well.
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