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Reflections of nine years of Interdisciplinary Capstone Courses

Mara Feldgen and Osvaldo Cla University of Buenos Aires

Washington, October 27-30, 2010

Informatics Engineering Program

at the University of Buenos Aires
! 6 years program
! 4 years background program ! 2 years specialization program ! Distributed Systems (DS) ! Software Engineering (SE) ! Artificial Intelligence (AI)

! Capstone course (6th year)

! Simulations (SE, AI) ! Case studies ! Authentic involvement (DS) ! Outside clients
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The Distributed Systems Capstone Course

Students first opportunity to manage a real engineering project
! Motivational Environment
! Team selection ! common interest, matching work style and similar motivation ! Projects selection ! Industry-sponsored projects
! University Researcher-lab

! Industry sponsored

projects drawbacks
! Industries are far away from

the School of Engineering in Buenos Aires

! Student schedules ! Course requirements ! Time consuming for the

sponsored projects
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liaison engineer

Reflections of 9 years of Interdisciplinary Capstone Courses

Last 9 year Projects

The main concern is to expose the student to real situations with totally open-ended projects about an interesting, challenging and rewarding topic, and that the student receives some kind of satisfaction from the experience.
! Project topics: ! Industrial Automation, ! Robotics using an ABB Robotic Arm, ! Electro Medicine using a set of programmable XIOR mobile robots ! Process Control using programmable sensor network motes and data acquisition boards
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! Student

teams develop software applications and prototypes for the researcher labs with special hardware:
! 61 participants ! 23 teams ! 18 teams (49 students) assessed ! 4 teams working ! 1 team starting

Reflections of 9 years of Interdisciplinary Capstone Courses

! The assessment scheme in the course involves a mix of

quantitative and qualitative assessments techniques ! We use a qualitative research methodology to get diagnostic information.
! This information allows us to: ! Meet students needs (acting as facilitator in team conflicts, disagreements with the clients staff or experts and other interpersonal issues) ! Deal with students rebellion and aggressiveness (preventing us to use our authority and power as grade provider to squelch these manifestations of rebellion) ! Meet our clients concerns about students motivation and expectations (how close is the project to students expectations and which situations and course implementation issues inadvertently squelch student enthusiasm)?

M. Feldgen & O. Cla

Reflections of 9 years of Interdisciplinary Capstone Courses

Qualitative Research Methodology

! Phenomenography (Marton)
! investigates the qualitatively

! Data collection methods:

! observation, interviews

different ways in which people experience something or think about something. ! seeks a "description, analysis, and understanding of ... experiences. ! sorts these perceptions, which emerge from the data collected, into specific 'categories of description' (Each category describe a particular way in which the phenomenon under investigation is perceived)
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(unstructured, conversational style), questionnaires, and document analysis:

! We collect the data from our

intervention as coach-facilitator and supervisor ! We observe students project interviews with the client, their revision and inspection sessions, and their presentations. ! We arrange sessions to discuss the outcomes of the project interviews, plans and design decisions ! We interview client and other instructors.

Reflections of 9 years of Interdisciplinary Capstone Courses

! Observation and interviews

were transcribed and analyzed looking for qualitatively different

! Students might go about

! ways to understand the clients

the experience in one or more of the following different ways:

! Developing a software ! ! ! !

problem; ! feelings and beliefs of students and clients about the contribution to the lab; ! feelings and beliefs about the interdisciplinary experience.

! Data were gathered and

analyzed from the start of the project to the end.

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artifact Integrating software concepts and methodologies Overestimating other disciplines Problem solving Participating or enculturation

Reflections of 9 years of Interdisciplinary Capstone Courses

Attitudes at the start of Developing a software artifact the project

! Students show manifestations of rebellion and

aggressiveness. Aggressive client interviews to impose ideas. Miss deadlines and meetings.

! Integrating software concepts and


! Students show fear, will tight guidance. Slow

start. Require external sources of feedback.

! Overestimating other disciplines ! Students underestimate other disciplines students. Aggressiveness at the start of the project. After failures they change. ! Problem solving ! Students show fear and focus on one solution. Renegotiate deadlines. ! Participating or enculturation ! Students show an high degree of empathy with the clients software issues. Meet deadlines and solve other client software problems.
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Project duration

Reflections of 9 years of Interdisciplinary Capstone Courses

Transformative Experience
Successful projects

The view shows a transformative experience when teams begin to take responsibility for their project outcomes and became independent from the instructor.
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Concluding Remarks
! The capstone course must be a self-directed, integrated

learning and motivating opportunity. Having a picture of students attitudes and evolution prevents an instructor to use his/her authority and power as grade provider to hinder teams transition to a more desirable stage of resolution. ! Some students may experience the project in only one way; others may sequentially exhibit different attitudes, while others may be simultaneously engaged in more than one aspect. This demonstrates that some ways of experiencing are more complex, fuller, or richer than others. ! It takes time to change attitudes and show professional skills as these listed by the Michigan Professional Preparation Network Report, such as Communication Competence, Critical Thinking, Contextual Competence, Aesthetic Sensibility, Leadership Capacity, and Motivation to continued Learning.
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