Published In

2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Electrical engineering -- Study and teaching (Higher), Computer engineering -- Study and teaching (Higher)


Many engineering programs have significant project-based courses in the freshman and senior years. The project component in our freshman year-long sequence evolves from minimally structured projects, like designing and building Rube-Goldberg contraptions, to more complex microcontroller-based projects where formal tools for teamwork and project management are introduced. However, we do not yet enforce strict adherence to procedures and processes in the freshman year. This is unlike the senior capstone, where the expectation is that students will not only be familiar with these methods but will use them effectively throughout their projects. This presents an obvious problem: what happens in the middle two years? Clearly, there is a very long gap, and unless there are more courses reinforcing the initial learning, it is very likely that students will not further develop and will tend to forget even the basics of their teamwork and project management skills.

Our answer to this problem has been the introduction of a two-quarter long course sequence: ECE 211 Introduction to Design Processes and ECE 212 Introduction to Project Development. We call this sequence the Cornerstone courses. We had two overarching goals:

Teach students design and project development well before senior Capstone projects. Integrate various strands of electrical and computer engineering through experiential learning. We decided to use advanced IoT-ready microcontrollers as a tool to accomplish the 2nd goal. In addition to other specific learning outcomes, these courses were designed to improve student learning in four main areas related to design, project management (PM), and teamwork:

Developing projects: Freshman: Show basic skills in breaking down assignments into team tasks. Sophomore: Develop projects from a starting idea and functionally decompose them. Applying Scrum PM: Freshman: Show evidence of planning for their projects. Sophomore: Apply Scrum PM more fully using project planning tools. Freshman: Learn the basics of project planning tools. Sophomore: Use project planning tools effectively. Effective teamwork: Freshman: Run projects with minimal team conflict. Sophomore: Demonstrate a deeper understanding of team dynamics.

We have taught these courses twice with good results. Students have shown the creativity, motivation, and growth that we had hoped for, and student response to the courses has been positive. To assess our goals more rigorously, we have developed a set of rubrics for which we will present data and analysis. We will also discuss implementation details, such as recruitment and training of Scrum Masters from among our upper-classmen. We believe that our approach is effective and can be replicated elsewhere.


© 2020 American Society for Engineering Education

Presented at the 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, Session: New Developments in ECE.

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