Assessing Computational Thinking in Engineering Design with a Workshop Environment

Michael A Thorburn, Engineering, California State University-Los Angeles

My job at Cal State LA is to run the Capstone Senior Design Program for the College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology. My primary foci for this essay are the electrical and mechanical engineering students and their projects. Ours is a year-long class, required of all students, where they work within a team, supported by an advisor, to complete a design for an external client. We have about 140 mechanical engineering students and 100 electrical engineering students, in 50 teams of 4 or 5, each working on their own project with their own client. The variety is substantial. The idea is that for many of our students, this class is a bridge from their academic coursework to their professional careers. I joined Cal State LA recently as I retired from industry. I have a very strong belief that a critical component of modern design processes is effective modeling and simulation. To help the students achieve this capability, and do so in our environment of such a wide range of backgrounds and project objectives, we are undertaking an effort to step up training in the use of simulation tools, such as MATLAB in a self-paced workshop environment.

First things first. We don't grade the workshops, but we do give extra credit to students that reach prescribed levels of capability. I firmly believe it the self-paced model and we attempt to leverage materials from wherever we can find them. There are excellent materials on the MATLAB web page, but also on YouTube and MOOC platforms such as EdX and Coursera. We try to cobble together workshops that leverage this material and we give students "badges" for having completed them. The complete assessment story is presently in development but our efforts are to include three parts:

1. Self evaluation.

Can the student complete certain exercises and answer simple questions (perhaps multiple choice) on their own? We allow the student to repeat this part as many times as necessary as they digest the tools. We encourage them to work in teams. This part of the assessment is simple to confirm understanding.

2. Sample evaluation

We give the student a sample simulation to complete. This is not always simple but is intended to exercise their understanding of the material in the workshop. The part of the assessment is confirm successful application of the technique.

3. Oral Q&A session

The last piece allows us to quickly assess the amount of the material the student understands very well and helps them build their own communication skills. This confirms mastery.

Work in Progress.
As we are just getting started, we will no doubt learn through the year. Perhaps I can benefit from others at the Teaching Computation Thinking Skills with MATLAB workshop who have more experience in these things. I welcome the help.

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Assessing Computational Thinking in Engineering Design with a Workshop Environment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Aug23 19)