Utilizing Assistive Technology Design Projects and Interdisciplinary Teams to Foster Inquiry and Learning in Engineering Design

Janis P. Terpenny and Richard M. Goff
Department of Engineering Education, College of Engineering
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0218, USA E-mail: terpenny@vt.edu

Mitzi R. Vernon and William R. Green
Industrial Design Program, College of Architecture and Urban Studies
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061-0218, USA
E-mail: vernon@vt.edu

In industry, successful products and systems usually require a collaborative design process with a multitude of participating stakeholders (customers, sales/marketing, industrial designers, engineering designers from various engineering disciplines, manufacturing, distribution, etc.). Addressing this future work environment, interdisciplinary teaming has become an important element of student design projects. For the last several years at Virginia Tech, interdisciplinary design projects have been created with teams of students from the first year Exploration of Engineering Design course in the College of Engineering and students from the second year Industrial Design Program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. While students and faculty alike have appeared to enjoy the exchange of different perspectives and insights that interdisciplinary collaboration appears to offer, there has heretofore been no effort to assess the effectiveness of this experience. This paper describes the experiment currently in progress that investigates student learning with interdisciplinary teams taking on assistive technology (AT) design projects. Two of the three major milestones of the project have occurred thus far, and the leap from the conceptual presentations to the first working prototypes has been surprisingly astute and successful. To date, observations and analysis of assessment data indicate there is a discernible difference between the quality of the projects of interdisciplinary teams of engineering and industrial design students and engineering only teams. Data also indicate that interdisciplinary teams value and are more amenable to projects that are more complex due to being open ended, human centered, and collaborative more than engineering only teams.


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