One of the classes I teach, which I will now be teaching online in 5 days, is called "Engineering for Social Good". Prior to the COVID-19 situation we were in the middle of a unit on Electrical Engineering and Computer Science where students were using the MyoWare muscle sensor to build muscle activated bionic hands as a way of learning more about assistive technology and perhaps delivering final, tuned prototypes to individuals in need. Click here and here for image examples of few initial prototype tests via twitter.
In the face of ? days of online teaching, I have been struggling with ways of continuing this project with my students given that it requires a heavy amount of materials and electronics that are at school and cannot be accessed. A natural content default, especially given the the title of this particular course, is to put our current bionic project on hold and figure out a way to be of service, through a lens of engineering, to the myriad of different impacted people and businesses.
In preparation for this, I first sent this form to the parents of the students, as I did not want to begin leveraging the current situation in the classroom with young students unless I had permission from parents AND students. Anxiety around this is very real, for all of us, and I would not want to amplify such anxiety. Responses were very positive, but also cautious. Below are a few examples (names removed):
My initial idea was to have students leverage their CAD skills to contribute to the ever growing 3D printing solutions. This primarily consists of face mask attachements and ventilator valves. However, upon reflection, this is a more useful project for individuals and organizations that HAVE printers, and have the time to mass print files. The CAD already exists, thus the engineering, from an instructional perspective with my students, would be minimal.
Keeping the above in mind, I was engaged in a conversation via text with a colleague of mine yesterday regarding the my curricular dilemma that helped me simplify my thinking and get back to the real purpose of the class. The conversation is below:
Yes! The first step is inquiry...and my students always SHOCK me with their insight and questions. So, we are going back to the Design Thinking basics we explored at the beginning of the semester.
So, the first step is to empathize with the end user! I am not sure how this is going to work with the current quarantine, however I will leave it to my students to amaze me as they always do. My goal, personally, is to let go of the desire to engage in the traditionally concepts around engineering we were exploring before (CAD, CS, etc.) and let the cyclical process described above BE the engineering.
Who knows what students will propose. So many folks are in need of the genius our young students provide...Stay tuned :)