Month: April 2017

Designing a new web based platform for undergraduate research

We had a remarkable session yesterday. Based on commitments of two weeks ago, faculty members invited some students, and they really changed the dynamic of 30 minute Strategy Sprint. we are currently exploring how to design a web-based platform to expose undergraduates to research opportunities within Mechanical Engineering.

Designing a wire frame

The first step is to outline a “wireframe” of the web platform. Identifying the categories of content we want to include. At the same time, we want to and characterize the “look and feel” of the site. In this way, we can provide the designer with clear guidance. Chris Goldenstein has already contributed a good wireframe on which we are building.

Videos of students for students

Our student team members brought up the importance of sharing the experiences of undergraduates. We outlined how we might create some videos, based on the experiences of students who have seen the value of research. These videos could also provide a clear explanation of what is involved with research.

Got ideas for videos? e-mail

Capturing the right look and feel

We need a web platform that has the right look and feel. Engaging. Useful. Fast. Right now it takes real digging to find out what faculty are engaged in research. There’s no easy way for students to identify research opportunities. (There may be a good model for us to copy from Discovery Park, though.)

Organizing research with categories and tags

We are also working on the categories and tags that we will use to organize the site.  Arezoo has suggested these categories

  • Acoustics and Noise Control
  • Bioengineering
  • Combustion, Energy Utilization, and Thermodynamics
  • Design
  • Fluid Mechanics & Propulsion
  • Heat Transfer
  • Manufacturing and Materials Processing
  • Mechanics and Vibrations
  • Nanotechnology
  • Robotics
  • Solid Mechanics
  • Systems, Measurement, and Control
  • Thermal Systems

Next steps

We left the 30 minute Strategy Sprint with five groups of action steps:

  1.  identifying websites that might be models for the look and feel that we are trying to design;
  2.  defining the groupings of  research activity across  Mechanical Engineering;
  3.  identifying students who might be willing to share their stories through videos;
  4.  connecting with Pi Tau Sigma’s  research person; and
  5.  developing initial ideas on marketing.

At our next Strategy Sprint, we will bring in our web designer to begin developing  an  ME research website for undergraduates.

Outline of our wireframe: ME research for undergraduates web site.

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Experimenting with faculty office hours

Peter Meckl has been running a small scale experiment on faculty office hours. Here’s what we’re learning. Peter simply changed the location of his office hours from his faculty office to the Commons. While it did not increase the number of students engaged, the quality of Peter’s conversation with students improved significantly.

Peter observed that his conversation with students moved beyond the specific problem in class to include broader discussions. In addition, when two students showed up during the last session, they began to work together on a problem. In other words, by simply shifting the location of faculty office hours, we learned that we may be able to improve faculty interaction with students (and student interactions with each other).

Of course, there are logistical issues to scaling this approach. Not every faculty member can hold office hours in the Commons. However, it may be possible to designate an area of the Commons for faculty/student interactions. And, of course, there may be other locations outside of faculty offices to hold faculty office hours. We are starting to figure out how to map other available locations.

In complex systems, small changes can have large impacts. In chaos theory, that is the so-called Butterfly Effect. We may have stumbled upon one.

 wireframe drawing

Here’s a rough outline of the wireframe drawing we are developing for the ME research for undergraduates site.

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