Teaching models for Senior Design courses. a Case Study
Publication Name: ASEE PEER
Over the past five years, a number of teaching configurations have been used at the University of Maine Mechanical Engineering Senior capstone two-course sequence in response to faculty turnover and a 40% growth in student numbers. The program evolved from a single instructor supported by a lab manager, to two co-instructors jointly overseeing all teams with limited volunteer faculty mentor help, to a single instructor overseeing all teams supported by faculty mentors advising one to two teams in their area of expertise, to three closely coordinated instructors advising only the subset of the teams aligned with their expertise in the form of three different sections.
The single instructor with lab manager support model was not suitable to accommodate the student growth, and to provide the diversity of projects needed to satisfy student interests. In order to manage the high number of student teams, an increasing delegation of student advising to support staff took place, combined with a unification of the project theme to converge at multiple instances of a single project. Challenges of this system included a progressive weakening from the course learning outcomes, and a lack of project choice for the students. Subsequent changes aimed to develop a model that provides both diversity of expertise and projects, while maintaining a sustainable workload for the participating faculty. Two faculty members jointly supervised all projects, and with the support of additional mentoring faculty, significantly increased the variety of projects. However, advising all teams and coordinating mentoring activities by other faculty members resulted in a very high workload for both instructors. The addition of a much more systematic assessment and evaluation approach for the course in alignment with ABET further complicated this approach. Sabbatical absences of first one and then the second instructor reverted the process to a single instructor supported by a more extensive team of mentoring faculty, however it was noticed that more mentors do not automatically reduce the instructor of records workload, making this system unsustainable. The current approach relies on three instructors that focus on their areas of expertise by having separate course sections. While constant collaboration and calibration of the assessment is necessary, the focused work, while still enabling an ample variety of projects, is proving to be sustainable and effective.
The paper will quantify instructor workload, coordination challenges, student feedback, project diversity, and assessment and evaluation characteristics of the different instructional models based on data collected over the past 6 years, and can help inform the suitability of teaching modality choices.