Pitfalls and lessons learned in integrating arduino into introductory design course in a mechanical engineering curriculum
Responding to the shifting world economies, significant changes have been made to Introduction to Engineering Design, a first-year course in the mechanical engineering curriculum at University of Illinois at Chicago since Fall 2018. In particular, 'electrification" of student projects and learning outcomes has been front and center in the department's latest strategic planning. Leveraging recent literature and faculty expertise, an increasingly deeper integration of Arduino has since taken place, while attempting to maintain the core of team-based mechanical design using morphological methods. The focus of this paper is to identify the challenges and pitfalls in such an endeavor by reflecting on the process of change over three semesters of implementation, including the deployment of both top-down and bottom-up approaches. In particular, this paper will examine course content development, teaching staff management and training, student learning assessments, inventory and experiential enhancement, and communication improvement. Data from student self-assessment, instructor evaluations, final project demonstration results, and teaching assistant and instructor observations are also reported. One of the roadblocks experienced included hardware choices (e.g., unexpected interference among ultrasonic sensors) and the administrative team needed to quickly identify and implement alternatives without sacrificing student outcomes. Another major issue was student preparedness in coding prior to enrolling in this course and it became apparent that specially crafted exercises were essential for each student to build a successful electromechanical device. Additionally, the quality and quantity of the support staff, in particular undergraduate teaching assistants, were found to be more crucial than anticipated and a robust recruitment process became necessary. The high-stake design project in ME 250 changes each semester to prevent students from obtaining a set of solutions or project reports from prior terms, so teaching assistant training is continuous. The specifics of each problem encountered will be described in the paper, along with lesson learned on how best to handle each situation and create a structure where continuous improvement can be made sustainable.