In August 2013, the Purdue University President and Board of Trustees designated the transformation of the College of Technology into the Purdue Polytechnic Institute as one of Purdue’s “Big Moves”. This transformation requires changes of enormous breadth and depth for everyone in the college. Now, almost half-way through the transformation, milestones and expectations continue to be met. However, much work is still to be done to fully execute a successful transformation. The transformation continues to allow faculty extraordinary opportunities to revise many parts of the college, including curricula, instruction methods, learning spaces, etc. A key characteristic of the transformation is creating learning environments that are student-centered with innovative instruction techniques.
TECH 120 – “Design Thinking in Technology”, is a freshman level survey course designed to develop a student’s perspective and enhance their skills in living and working in a technological society while introducing them to the College of Technology — now Purdue Polytechnic. Prior to the fall 2015 semester, Purdue Polytechnic New Albany decided to redesign portions of their TECH 120 course. The aim was to improve team project-based learning opportunities while incorporating modernized teaching methods. With a fresh set of eyes and collaboration between new and tenured faculty the projects, lectures, and assessments were all analyzed looking for areas for higher level of innovation and creativity. The aim for the overall effort was to increase student success rate (i.e. successful completion of assigned project tasks) while improving the alignment with elements of the transformation.
In past semesters, the course consisted of a mixture of traditional instructor-led lectures and a series of team projects. Each individual project part was intended to build upon each other while promoting the successful completion of a much larger final task. At the core of each project was LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT. The second generation set in the MINDSTORMS series is a programmable robotics kit that is based on robotics technology similar to that used in industry today. Each group (3–4 students) were given their own kit at the beginning of the semester. The final project statement was to design and build an autonomous robot which could identify and follow a light source attached to an instructor’s robot, which would be driven around a room. This task proved to be difficult and had a low success rate.
The new project is to design and build a robot that autonomously draws the initials (first and last name) of each team member within an assigned writing zone on a poster. The constant and open collaboration between the two TECH 120 instructors and the incorporation of student input proved to be important during the redesign. The success rate at the end of the semester increased. From course surveys, data also shows that students’ enjoyment and interest in the final project increased.
This short paper will describe the introduction to a team project-based activity in a polytechnic setting which uses modernized teaching methods. Preliminary findings and observations will be presented.