Accreditation criteria for engineering programs have come to place emphasis on what is being learned versus what is being taught. Engineering programs must now show that their graduates are achieving a specific set of learning outcomes. Historically, programs have focused on outcomes involving technical competence. Project Based Learning (PBL) has come to the fore as a means to promote these outcomes through active student participation in multidisciplinary, open-ended, group projects requiring self-direction, and teamwork. Industry studies have indicated that changes in engineering education are needed to address perceived deficiencies in other skills related to work readiness including communication and interpersonal skills, awareness of global issues (social, environmental, economic), leadership, and skills related to project management. This research is motivated by the need for PBL practices in engineering programs to provide early exposure to work readiness skills in order to promote students’ effectiveness in dealing with complex open-ended technical problems as may be encountered in senior capstone projects or in professional practice. Use of Rube Goldberg machines as a vehicle for teaching basic engineering design skills has been employed in a number of settings. These projects require students to creatively consider a variety of unconventional approaches to simple problems. In so doing, student teams are enabled to communicate and to advance their ideas in a nonthreatening forum where brainstorming is highly valued and where prior technical expertise affords no specific advantage. As such, projects based on Rube Goldberg machines present an effective way for freshmen and sophomore students, who may lack extensive technical skills, to acquire greater proficiency in the areas where industry has observed the greatest deficiencies. This research presents results from a pilot study in project management using the Rube Goldberg paradigm. The goal of the study was to create an effective teaching mechanism for project management concepts that could underpin an interdisciplinary series of PBL-oriented undergraduate engineering courses from its earliest stages. A cohort of engineering and engineering technology students participated in a sequence of sessions in which they undertook progressively challenging project assignments. Each project introduced new constraints that required the students to address additional aspects of project management. Results from an end-of-year questionnaire showed that the student participants had strongly positive impressions of their experiences related to these exercises. A majority of students felt that they had enhanced skills that would be valuable in professional life (96%), they had held leadership roles and improved their leadership skills (92%), and had gained appreciation for the value of project planning (100%) and technical documentation (96%). It is anticipated that lessons learned from the project sequence will provide the framework for cross-disciplinary freshman and sophomore PBL assignments.
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