Introduction to Engineering Design (SMU)

For 8 years or so, I was involved with the first-year design experience, and for 3 years, I led the team of faculty and student staff members in its delivery.  Introduction to Engineering Design is an interdisciplinary, project-based, team-oriented course for first year engineering and computer science students.  The central engineering challenge has always been related to some type of autonomous robot that has to perform a set of tasks.  The semester begins with a mini-design challenge that is used to get teams of students working together from day one.  The Mini Design challenge usually spans the first two or three weeks of the semester.  After that, the major design project begins, colloquially referred to as the “robot project”.

There are several goals that we hope to accomplish during the course:

  • give students an intensive, challenging experience in a team environment.
  • have students work with other students who have different disciplinary interests
  • begin the introduction of engineering leadership development of the students through a close and intentional partnership with the Hart Center for Engineering Leadership.

The major design project spans roughly 13 weeks of the semester.  We use modified version of the Scrum methodology to drive the project forward.  The project is broken into four time blocks called sprints.  At the end of each sprint, each team must demonstrate a set of deliverables and that demo is followed up by a “retrospective”.  The retrospective is a facilitated reflection exercise on how the functioning of the team is positively and negatively impacting the development of their project.

The course is staffed by 4 faculty members and a gaggle of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants.  From Fall 2012 to Spring 2015, I was the Director for the course, which meant I oversaw all of the logistics of the course, led the development of the various challenges and managed the student staff.  There is one faculty member from each of the disciplines involved in the course: computer science & engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and civil & environmental engineering.  There are also student staff members that are from each of those disciplines, and each student staff member has also previously taken the course.

While there were variations over time, the typical semester flowed as in the following:

  • Weeks 1 & 2: Mini Design Challenge
  • Weeks 3 & 4: High Level Design Sprint of Robot (Sprint 1) ends with design presentation
  • Weeks 5 – 7: Implementation Sprint (Sprint 2) ends with demo/deliverable of some robot functionality
  • Week 8: Fall or Spring Break
  • Weeks 9 – 11: Implementation Sprint (Sprint 3) ends with demo/deliverable or more robot functionality
  • Weeks  12 – 14: Final Implementation Sprint (Sprint 4) ends with a dry run in class.  Last day of week 14 is the Robot Competition
  • Week 15: Final Presentations and robot disassembly.

With two colleagues, we wrote a paper about the teaming aspect of this course.

M. Fontenot, K. Canales and A. N. Quicksall, “Taking care of the team in a first-year design experience course,” 2014 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), Madrid, Spain, 2014, pp. 1-5. doi:10.1109/FIE.2014.7044433

FYD Documents

Below are a sample of handouts and docs used throughout several semesters of the course.

Spring 2015

This semester, the scenario for the Robot Project revolved around a (fake) organization called Clean Water 4 All that was looking to make a large financial investment in a company (one of the teams) that built the best robot prototype based on a set of criteria and constraints.  More about the hypothetical scenario can be found in the Design Project Handout.

Fall 2012