Engineering 100 is a team-taught, four-credit core course with four primary goals:
- to introduce first-year students to basic engineering design concepts, principles, and methods;
- to give them contextualized instruction and experience in technical communication;
- to acquaint them with important concepts in engineering ethics, professionalism, teamwork, and sustainability;
- and to bring them into the engineering community here at the University.
It is a project-based class in which students work in teams and individually to master first-year level technical content in one of the major engineering disciplines and to become competent in the major genres of technical and professional communication.
A Brief History of Engineering 100
The current form of the course is the end result of a process that began in 1991, when the College of Engineering faculty created a plan for a first-year engineering class that would couple communication with an engineering design project. At that time, engineering students were entering their sophomore and higher-level courses with two perceived deficits: they were untrained in the sorts of communication skills that their upper-division engineering courses, internships, and future careers would demand of them, and they were unacquainted with the methods and mindset characteristic of engineering design and the profession. The course was designed with a significant technical communication component with the intention of implementing this course, for engineering students, in place of the university-wide first year writing requirement.
Over the nearly twenty years of the course’s existence, it has gained steadily in popularity, both with faculty and students. Offerings have expanded as faculty have voluntarily introduced new, exciting and contemporary design projects. The ability of the course to adapt to changes in the engineering profession and to keep pace with it as it evolves almost certainly contributes significantly to the high levels of student satisfaction reflected in course evaluations. The ten sections taught in the fall semester of 2011 enjoyed an average score of 4.35 of 5 on the response to the item ‘Overall, this was an excellent course.’ More tellingly, the average was 4.23 of 5 for the item ‘I had a strong desire to take this course.’
Each new section of Engineering 100 is co-developed by a faculty member from Engineering and a faculty member from the Program in Technical Communication. While typically the former creates the design project and the latter creates the communication content and deliverables, in practice both have input on each, and the two instructors share responsibility for the course equally.
Based on the stated course goals, the technical faculty member will create a design project of an appropriate scope: able to be completed by a team of students [usually 4-5] in one semester, taking advantage of a set of technical lessons that can be delivered in that time frame, allowing for course threads of sustainability, ethics, problem definition, etc. to be addressed as part of the project. Based on the technical project, the communication faculty member designs a set of communication deliverables, culminating in team-based final design reports (both oral and written). Assignments are graded for both technical and related communication outcomes, and that grading is typically shared by the two faculty. Often, the communication faculty member makes use of examples relevant to the technical space of the project, and the technical faculty member demonstrates the communication practices advocated by his or her partner. Overall, the team develops a common vocabulary around the project and learning outcomes so that students perceive a seamless partnership.
Course Learning Outcomes
Details of the class vary from section to section, but all sections conform to a set of common learning outcomes. Every section has at its core an open-ended design problem that the students address in teams, and every section gives instruction in the technical material that the students need to solve the problem as well as the communication skills that they need to present their solutions. In addition, within the context of the design problem, instruction in teamwork management, professional responsibility/ethics, the role of the engineer in society, and sustainable engineering is delivered.
Faculty are encouraged to embrace a significant hands-on component in the course, including a design-build-test curriculum. Faculty may also instill other curriculum models as they see fitting to the project (e.g. service-learning or entrepreneurship). The breadth and variety of the offerings are intended to ensure that all students can learn about engineering and technical communication in a class that fits their interests and inclinations.
Common Course Structure/Components
Section contact hours are divided into 3 categories:
- lectures (two 1.5-hour sessions per week),
- a discussion period (1 hour per week), and
- an additional 1 to 2-hour period designated as laboratory, hands-on activities or structured time for team meetings.
The three core components of the class—technical content/design, technical communication, professional skills—are distributed in various ways, but typically the discussion periods are devoted to technical communication activities, often in teams, and the lectures are divided among the three components, with technical material predominating as follows:
- 60 +/- 5% Technical Material and the Engineering Design Process
- 30 +/- 5% Technical Communication Material
- 10 % Professional Skills (teamwork, professional responsibility, sustainable engineering…)
All Engineering 100 sections have at least one significant team project that poses an open-ended design problem that the students must solve using the technical content presented in the course; some have additional multiple smaller projects or sub-projects. Each section has additional technical assignments that help students master the engineering content—problem sets or labs—and each has two exams (a mid-term and final, or two hourly exams). All sections require the students to present their proposed designs in a final written report and oral presentation. A number of classes have also incorporated some culminating activity involving a competition, expo, or poster session.
In addition to the two lead faculty, each course is supplied with Technical Communication faculty to lead discussions. For design-build-test sections with a significant laboratory component, GSI’s or IA’s are supplied to lead the lab sessions. In some instances with significant need demonstrated, graders may be provided.
Each section is provided a minimum of $20 per enrolled student for materials and supplies necessary for the laboratory and design requirements of the course. In some instances, with industry sponsorship, this value can be increased. In addition to expendable costs, requests for long-term equipment can be made to the Associate Dean for Academic Programs office. These requests are accepted on a rolling basis.
Each lecture section of Engineering 100 runs with approximately 60 students (design-build-test curriculum) or 80 students (non design-build-test or by faculty agreement) in steady state. All sections are piloted with 40 students for the first semester. Associated discussions and labs run with approximately 20 students.
Faculty teaching in the Engineering 100 classroom are encouraged to employ engaging and active teaching styles, designed to motivate and energize students towards the content, design project and the field of engineering. Faculty should also employ best practices in the placement of students on teams (e.g. avoiding isolation of under-represented students on teams) and in their management of these teams, seeking equity and balance in student participation and ensuring the development of positive teamwork approaches among the students. Faculty are also encouraged to make direct connections to their students and to maintain a watchful eye over students during this challenging transition to college life.
Resources for Engineering 100 faculty (current and potential) are shared on a C-Tools project site. If you wish to gain access to this site, please send an email to Dr. Fred Terry, Director of Academic Programs at firstname.lastname@example.org