Title

Consumer Reports Inspired Introduction to Engineering Project

Document Type

Conference Paper

Version Deposited

None (link only)

Publication Date

June 2015

Conference Name

2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Abstract

Freshman engineering courses play a crucial role in educating students about the various engineering disciplines and their functions, in addition to establishing a strong analytical foundation. Recognizing the importance of basic experimentation techniques, a new freshman engineering project was designed to expose students to the overall engineering profession with emphasis on developing fundamental technical and laboratory skills. The project was inspired by the popular Consumer Reports magazine, which publishes reviews of consumer products upon rigorous testing and analytical surveys. Specifically, we note the strong overlap between core functions of an engineer and the process with which Consumer Reports reviews are generated. Freshman students were asked to select three brands of a consumer product for their review with instructor consultation. The products ranged from well-marketed kitchen tools to popular children’s toys. The student teams designed experiments to systematically test quantifiable properties of these products, analyze the data and recommend a specific brand. The project enabled students to practice core engineering functions such as design of experiments,measurement, data analysis, and representation. In essence developing laboratory skills without necessarily requiring a strong theoretical understanding to conduct the experiments. Most importantly, the project afforded students the autonomy to design their own sub-project within the provided constraints. The students also recognized the importance of soft skills such as teamwork, effective communication, and project management in achieving their purpose of identifying a superior brand. This paper presents the overall scope of the project and its outcomes, including the details for adopting the Consumer Reports Project within a freshman engineering course or, alternatively, in a high school technical course. The paper highlights implementation, including project milestones, and assessment of this highly student-driven hands-on project. Pre- and post-tests were conducted to assess the effectiveness of the project in achieving the project objectives. Formative student surveys indicated a very positive response to the project, acknowledging the independence of product selection as the key aspect in making the project engaging. The highly flexible and scalable aspects of the project make it ideal as an introductory engineering project focused on developing a strong experimental foundation, at the same time providing a broad overview of the engineering profession.

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