This work-in-progress paper describes the implementation and results of surveys to understand the impact of a first-year engineering design course on students. During the Engineering Design and Communication (EGR 101) course, students work in teams to learn and apply the engineering design process to a client-based problem drawn from a community partner. The learning outcomes are to 1) apply the engineering design process to meet the needs of a client; 2) iteratively prototype a solution; 3) work collaboratively on a team; and 4) communicate the critical steps in the design process in written, oral, and visual formats. Students work on one project team for the entire semester, with the focus of delivering a built and tested solution to the client.
To better understand the effects of this course, we used a quantitative evaluation process. The survey addresses how the course contributes to students’ self-efficacy and commitment in four areas: professional development, professional skills, engineering/academics, and creativity. Using a repeated-measures design, all students taking the course in fall 2018 were invited to participate in a survey at the beginning and end of the semester (113 paired responses). The survey utilized scale measures assessing intended outcome constructs, with scales adopted and/or adapted from other relevant existing measures. Measurements and analyses included determination of internal reliability for included scale measures (Chronbach’s alpha), assessment of statistical significance in observed pre/post change using paired t-test (P<0.05), and/or assessment of strength of effect in pre/post change using effect size (Cohen’s d).
Significant, positive change was seen in general engineering self-efficacy, engineering skills (tinkering) self-efficacy, and engineering design self-efficacy; moreover, engineering design self-efficacy demonstrated notably high strength of effect, as measured by effect size. Within the area of personal development, students showed statistically significant growth in general self-efficacy, but not grit/perseverance. Positive changes in all three of the areas of professional skills, including teamwork, communication, and leadership, were significant and of medium to high effect size. However, these changes across the semester were not seen in engineering academic engagement, which attempted to measure how likely students were to select engineering as a major.
These results provide early evidence of effectiveness for the EGR 101 course in core intended outcomes; results indicate that it is indeed building students’ self-efficacy in terms of professional and engineering design skills. Ongoing efforts to further this work are twofold. First, we implemented a parallel data collection process with a second wave of student participants in fall 2019; this will allow us to both build our sample size and determine if the effects are evident across multiple course offerings. Second, current work is underway to evaluate whether these changes persist into students’ second year. Particularly, the study will explore whether academic engagement (i.e., declaring a major) is a function of any of these measure parameters. The combination of this current and planned research trajectory will contribute to improve our evidence-based understanding of the contributions of a first-year design-focused course on undergraduates’ academic and personal development.
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