The aim of an engineering education is to initiate and sustain the process of transforming a schoolgirl/boy to an engineer/designer/innovator. This is a process that takes time and should be started as early as possible.
The Electronic Engineering Ladder is a sequence of courses during the first four semesters of the master program Electronic System Design and Innovation at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Norway. The learning outcomes of these semesters contain both disciplinary fundamentals and operative engineering skills. Moreover, skills of innovation are encouraged through an innovation project. This project is formulated together with an external problem owner with a well-defined real-world problem.
By involving an external stakeholder (the client), realism is introduced and the students must take into account constraints that will normally not be present in a school-defined project. The first meeting with the client is early in the first semester and makes clear that the days as schoolgirls and boys are at an end, and that new attitudes are required from now on. The expected outcome of this approach is increased skills in independent work and decision making and an increased motivation for learning the disciplinary fundamentals.
Introducing an innovation project at such an early stage presents several challenges. For instance one must find a suitable client with a problem that is both possible to solve with an electronic system and with the skills that the students will have during the project period. Furthermore, a common understanding must be established between the client, the students and the faculty, both with respect to the problem at hand and the expected outcomes of the project. In addition, one has all the usual challenges with project work such as diversity among students with respect to ability, devotion and confidence.
The first class of the Electronic Engineering Ladder was enrolled in 2014 and will finish their innovation project in the spring of 2016. The client for this group is Kystlaget Trondhjem, a society of owners of antique boats. The client needs an inexpensive surveillance system for monitoring the state of a vessel and giving the owner an alarm on his mobile phone when a potential unwanted condition occurs. The owner can then open a web page to inspect a log of temperature, humidity, motion, etc. of his vessel.
The class starting in 2015 works together with Trondheim Science Center to develop a prototype for an exhibition model about Pavlov's Dog, explaining conditioned learning.
The paper will discuss the challenges involved in the approach and how these are met in the two described cases. In particular, the structure of the Electrical Engineering Ladder is discussed with emphasis of the interplay between disciplinary fundamentals and innovation skills. An important message is also the experience we have with using a matrix structure for organizing the project work. Each student is member of both a design/implementation group and a so-called expert group dealing with a particular sub-topic.
Proceedings of the 12th International CDIO Conference, Turku, Finland, June 12-16 2016