Product-Based Learning in an Overseas Study Program: The ME110K Course

David M. Cannon and Larry J. Leifer
The Center for Design Research, Department of Mechanical Engineering, and The Stanford Learning Laboratory, Stanford University
Stanford, CA 94309, USA

Experience in a foreign country has long been considered a vital part of a well-rounded education. Engineering students, though, seem to have been considered an exception; many students and educators see such experience as being unnecessary, or an unaffordable luxury, given the large number of subjects that are required in the undergraduate curriculum. Stanford University has made a commitment to making overseas study available to as many students as possible, including those who don’t traditionally participate. A prime example of that effort is found in the Spring quarter Stanford Center for Technology and Innovation, a program held at its Kyoto, Japan overseas campus, targeted specifically at students in engineering and science programs. Required courses are made available through videotape, live discussion, and such, with the support of on- and off-site professors and teachers’ assistants. Expanding on this, we have begun an overseas design project course, aimed ultimately at fulfilling the ABET capstone design course requirements for upper-level engineering students. In this paper we report briefly on the first iteration of the course, taught in the Spring quarter of 1998 in collaboration with Prof. Itsuo Ohnaka of Osaka University. Students in the course teamed up to work on design projects sponsored by four Japanese companies. Because of this unique setting, it was possible to educate the students about the influence of culture on design, creativity, perception of needs; about conventional and unusual approaches to teamwork; and about often culture-dependant assumptions about what criteria an acceptable solution must possess. Studying design in such a foreign context, we have found, can be an extraordinary, eye- opening experience, enabling students to better see the context of their future work, especially as more and more will take place in a global arena. The course was taught again in the Spring of 2000, and included students from Osaka University in the project teams. As of this writing, preparations are underway to carry it out again in the Spring of 2001 in Kyoto and Berlin overseas campuses, with further enhancements.


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