Modern engineering curricula increasingly seek to include experiential or project-based design in order to better prepare engineering graduates for industry. The human-centered design approach offers scaffolding that enables novices to develop solutions which address the underlying needs of stakeholders. By integrating engineering experiential learning (e.g. manufacturing labs, product dissection) with human-centered design practices (e.g. empathizing with stakeholders, using narrative methods to share ideas and get feedback) students can develop skills that expand on those gained from traditional engineering problem sets, and more closely resemble real-world engineering practice. This benefit relies on the successful implementation of design lessons in engineering classes which often depends on the graduate teaching assistants (TAs) who lead discussion or laboratory sections. This work-in-progress paper describes the implementation of an activity that introduces human-centered design to students in a Design for Manufacturability course. It explores the TAs’ experiences of implementing this activity to provide insights into the challenges of teaching design in engineering classes and to seek ways to overcome these challenges.
This study is part of a design-based implementation research project that is led by a newly established Design Center at a large Midwestern University [blinded for review]. The center coordinates with faculty members on campus to integrate human-centered design concepts in their courses. The study took place in an undergraduate engineering course that introduced 190 sophomore students to Design for Manufacturability tools and methodologies. In Fall 2019, there were 15 laboratory sections of this course. Each section had 12 to 15 students and was facilitated by two graduate teaching assistants. TAs first received a one-hour training session on human-centered design from a Senior Design Strategist at the Design Center, and a one-hour training session on storytelling techniques from an industrial enterprise and systems engineer. In the first week of laboratory sessions, the TAs implemented an activity that engaged students in redesigning a staple remover using a human-centered design approach. Then in the second week, students communicated their redesign strategies and outcomes to their peers using storytelling techniques by creating a poster and presenting it in lab. Classroom observations were collected from two laboratory sections and the two TAs of these sections were interviewed.
The preliminary analysis of classroom observations shows that the TAs introduced human-centered design using a presentation and accompanying activity guide. Students worked in dyads or triads to complete the activity while TAs facilitated discussions between group members as needed. The preliminary analysis of the interviews shows that the TAs thought that the human-centered design offered a new lens for engineering work; however, they expressed difficulty in explaining to students how to apply human-centered design processes. Both TAs also mentioned the importance of interactions amongst students, and the challenges associated with initiating and facilitating those interactions. Future work will involve providing all 190 students with questionnaires to understand their experiences with this activity and its impact on their experiences throughout the course.
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