What was the activity?
Degree courses in the School of Engineering (SoE) are accredited by the Engineering Council (EC). This means that specific leaning outcomes, set by the EC must be achieved. In second year Mechanical Engineering Design this includes communication with a non-technical audience. Inherently all assessors within the SoE are a technical audience, so a genuine appraisal of these skills can be challenging. To facilitate this, as well as make the experience authentic, students are assessed via a ‘Design Showcase’. The use of authentic assessment enables us to interweave the essential technical and social elements of an engineering course (Guzzomi, Male and Miller, 2015). The EC also requires that students are able to create an innovative design and are able to evaluate outcomes. The module and showcase have been generated to assess all of these learning outcomes.
Clients are recruited from outside the SoE to set real-world problems for the students. Industry collaboration with academia is beneficial in the development of graduate employability skills and in creating an engaging curriculum (Aizpun, Sandino and Merideno, 2015). The clients come from a range of organisations (including the NHS and theatre companies) and backgrounds (including people with disabilities and school children). Students meet the clients at the start of the module to discuss their challenges, then design a solution in teams of five to seven. A prototype and poster of the solution is presented by each team at the Design Showcase at the end of the module.
Prior to the start of the showcase students must:
- manufacture a prototype;
- provide a simplified version of their design specification;
- compare their prototype to their specification;
- produce a poster which explains their design and shows further developments they would make given increased time and budget.
The Design Showcase is visited by students, staff and the public, and student teams discuss their prototypes with visitors. All members of the public are then able to vote on their favourite projects. Our visitors are, largely, a non-technical audience and thus their votes reflect the students’ ability to communicate with them both verbally and via their posters. Part of the grade each student receives is based on their percentage of the public vote.
Our clients are also a non-technical audience. During the showcase they speak with their teams and, using a simplified framework, assess the students’ designs in terms of whether it meets their requirements, is innovative based on their own experiences of the field, and how well the students have communicated the design. After moderation, this constitutes another part of the grade each student receives.
Members of staff with relevant design and engineering skills also attend the showcase and speak to the teams. Staff members are provided with the students’ specification to evaluate their prototype design against. The outcome of this assesses design but more importantly, in terms of weighting, the staff assessment against the specification is compared to the students’ self-assessment using the same methodology. The proximity of these two marks assesses the students’ ability to evaluate outcomes, in other words whether they are accurate in assessing the calibre of their own design work – an important skill for a professional engineer!
This multi-mode assessment takes place simultaneously, reusing several documents therefore minimising student and staff burden whilst retaining rigour, breadth and authenticity.
How did it impact students?
The showcase takes place at the end of the year thus serving as both assessment and celebration. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students feel isolated and in competition (Canning, LaCosse, Kroeper and Murphy, 2019) but students actively enjoy this event as a community. We witness students having fun whilst improving their skills and gaining academic credit. In the online version, students even held an impromptu poetry “battle” and a flash mob of “Luigi” characters by changing their avatars costumes, finding ways to add even more fun to the event and continuing to use it as a social space after the assessment. This is formative, and students have raised it years later as a memorable event from their time at Warwick.
The public attendance means friends and family can visit, increasing student pride and connectedness to their own communities. It also puts students in touch with employers and gives them opportunities to practice communication skills no other engineering module gives them, such as talking to children and arts groups. The authenticity has brought out student comments such as “this made me feel like an engineer”. Students have also informed the department that they have been able to use their experiences in this module and assessment during interviews where they have subsequently been appointed to the job. Clients involved have also reported back to us informally that the collaboration has been a useful opportunity for development for their own staff.
Any advice for others?
Hosting a showcase event is great for students and for connecting to your community but it can get chaotic very quickly. Make sure you keep it as simple as you can, and get a team together with clearly defined roles. Where possible brief people on their roles (for example, staff carrying out assessment versus specification in our case) and provide any paperwork and resources well in advance of the event. Try to have some ‘spare’ staff without defined roles ready to plug gaps as you spot them on the day. It is very rewarding for all involved and we found that once it has run once you are likely to find you have a ready pool of volunteers for future years.
In terms of the multi-mode assessment, be very clear on what you expect students to provide. Giving them template documents can help with this. This will then help with consistency across your different markers and platforms and make administration easier later. This is especially true of using spreadsheets so marks can easily be compiled for moderation.
To find out more about our showcases please feel free to visit the following links:
Face to face version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeYMOg19s5M
Online version: https://gather.town/app/izyt9w2KsSYTL79A/WarwickDesignShowcase
Other contextual details
Prior to Covid-19 this event took place face to face in a hall. Since the pandemic we have moved the event online using Gather.Town, an online conference platform which, in addition to audio visual interaction, uses avatars to give attendees autonomy of engagement. The online version has been equally impactful, in fact it allowed a far higher and more diverse range of external participants to attend.
Aizpun, M., Sandino, D. and Merideno, I. (2015) ‘Developing students’ aptitudes through University-Industry collaboration’, Ingeniería e Investigación, 35(3), pp.121-128. https://doi.org/10.15446/ing.investig.v35n3.48188
Canning, E., LaCosse, J., Kroeper, K. and Murphy, M., (2019) ‘Feeling Like an Imposter: The Effect of Perceived Classroom Competition on the Daily Psychological Experiences of First-Generation College Students’, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 11(5), pp.647-657. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550619882032
Guzzomi, A., Male, S. and Miller, K. (2015) ‘Students’ responses to authentic assessment designed to develop commitment to performing at their best’, European Journal of Engineering Education, 42(3), pp.219-240. https://doi.org/10.1080/03043797.2015.1121465