In collegiate engineering education, the emphasis often falls on simply delivering information to students. While this is certainly necessary, I also want to ensure that my students store course concepts in long-term memory and that they are able to apply those concepts to real-world design problems – ultimately preparing them to become successful practitioners of engineering and design. In every course that I teach I adopt three core instructional strategies to operationalize my goals: inviting student attention through current examples; assisting memory formation by providing knowledge structures; and providing opportunities to practice recall through design-based activities.
Principles of design have vast potential for helping us to understand the design decisions that led to products that we interact with on a regular basis. I deliberately leverage this potential to construct lectures that would hold my students’ attention. Inviting student attention makes it more likely that concepts from my lectures will eventually enter the long-term memory of my students. Relevant examples also serve as reference points that students can connect to later when working on their own design projects.
Once a concept resides in short-term memory, it must be structured for storage in long-term memory. One way to facilitate this process is by connecting the new concept to other concepts that students already know. The first lecture that I gave in IPC course was an overview of the process that students would follow through the remainder of the semester: identifying a product opportunity, understanding that opportunity, and creating a concept to fill that opportunity.
Practicing recalling a concept helps cement it in long-term memory. I often use two assessments to provide students with opportunities to practice recalling course concepts. The first is a semester long, team-based design project. This allows students to recall concepts in a semi-relaxed environment during team meetings and in-class working sessions. The second assessment is a set of in-class case competitions in which students work with randomly chosen teams. This provides another opportunity for students to practice recalling course concepts but in a more exciting and time-sensitive environment. These competitions have the added benefit of directly preparing students for case-based job interviews. To ensure that these team-based activities are truly beneficial for students I organize teams that mix across genders, backgrounds, and experience levels.