Abstract

Product development is a key component of engineering education taught at a number of universities through their capstone design course. This course provides students with an opportunity to apply their newly obtained knowledge in engineering to design, build, and test working prototypes. This educational approach also encourages students to place additional attention on time and group management. As students walk through the design process, their focus fluctuates between group organization, product development, and course deliverables. This paper observes this variation in focus to extract key insights related to who is focusing on what and when. Data was collected in the form of individual project journals for each student and these provide a detailed look into the design activities throughout the semester allowing for a focus mapping from week to week. The focus of each student is quantified by a topic distribution of each student’s weekly journal entries, automatically extracted using Latent Dirichlet Allocation. Our results place emphasis on the topic identification accuracy and interpretation, before identifying trends found that separate high performing students and groups from those with poor performances. It was found that efficient time management focusing on the required course deliverables, and group cohesion led to the most impactful performance variations. Using this knowledge, we identify future directions supporting the pedagogy for capstone projects.

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