NSF logo

Exploring Artificial Intelligence-enhanced Electronic Design Process Logs: Empowering High School Engineering Teachers

Roxanne Moore shares more on her newly funded NSF RETTL project, Exploring Artificial Intelligence-enhanced Electronic Design Process Logs: Empowering High School Engineering Teachers (#2119135).

Team: Mark Riedl, Roxanne Moore, Jeff Rosen, Meltem Alemdar, Jessica Roberts, Gennie Mansi, Yasmine Belghith

The Engineering Design Process (EDP) is a framework commonly used in Engineering and Computer Science (CS) courses. The framework is typically drawn as a linear process from questioning to designing to implementation and testing, when in actuality, the design process is non-linear and involves multiple iterations of problem identification, user interviews, and solution ideation. However, these critical stages of the design process are often overlooked in classrooms, with students going straight to prototype development. Principal Investigator Mark Riedl and his Co-PIs, Roxanne Moore, Jeff Rosen, and Meltem Alemdar, are working to pilot an AI system that can assist high school teachers in guiding students through the design process, provide real-time feedback, and promote documentation of each stage of the process.

What inspired you to start this project?
Large class sizes, asynchronous group work, and the stigmatization of requesting feedback and failure, has made it challenging for teachers to provide real time feedback and assessment of students’ engineering projects prior to their completion. Without structured guidance, students are less likely to document stages of their design process or thoroughly vet the problem they are trying to solve. This can result in pedagogical misalignment between the projects and prototypes that students are expected to produce. In addition, when assessing these projects, standard rubrics and final products, such as reports, that only focus on the final product make it difficult for instructors to gauge how well their students actually utilized the EDP during development.

Several members of the project team have spent significant time developing, teaching, and observing engineering courses. While teachers and students would say that they use and understand the EDP, our experience is that the logistics and execution of key steps in the design process and their documentation remain challenging across many environments. Deep understanding of the problem is often viewed as an impediment to prototyping and testing, which is considered the most “engaging” part of engineering. However, this focus makes engineering more about the tools and less about the people and the process of creating something that betters society.

The proposed AI system aims to help improve the engineering curriculum, assist in the assessment of the design processes, and destigmatize failure by empowering teachers to create task models that can offer both real time guidance and identify pathways students may take during the engineering design process. The system will also help students adapt these task models to teachers’ project specifications.

Tell me about your partnerships.
This project is a collaboration between Georgia Tech’s College of Computing (GT CoC), researchers at Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics and Computing (CEISMC), and the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. CEISMC hires both researchers and former educators to stay in touch with educator and learner needs and inform their research and development processes. In fact, Co-PI Jeff Rosen is a former classroom teacher and is well connected to other teachers and leadership administrators in the counties and states where they partner. To ensure that their research is grounded in educational practice, CEISMC typically conducts research-practice discussions through educator focus groups regarding curriculum implementation. These focus groups will include educators who have used the EDP framework previously and educators who have never used it.

What would a classroom utilizing your technology look like?
This project does not propose to replace teachers with AI; rather, the project will explore a novel approach in which AI systems assist teachers in the creation of instructional modules that adhere to EDP best practices. The system could act as a “virtual teacher’s aid,” reducing teachers’ workload and supporting students in overcoming frustrations and misunderstandings without stigma. In this way, we hope our tool could ultimately result in students who are self-motivated to use the EDP to design solutions for many types of problems.

A classroom using our technology would still retain many of the characteristics of typical engineering courses—collaborative design projects, asynchronous work, use of technology, and tools for prototyping—however, we hope that students would also use technology not just for Computer-Aided Design and internet research, but as means to continuously document and reflect on their design process. We hope that this will be a modernized engineering notebook or inventor’s journal that, rather than being static, is actually helpful in guiding the students during their design journey. However, this requires cultural changes with regard to how students spend their time in engineering class.

What do you foresee being your biggest barrier to meeting this goal?
There has been a long history of engineering curricula at the middle and high school levels that focus on a linear process of design, fabrication, or prototyping. This is a frequent limitation of the curriculum, and often the scoping of design problems, which can result in the EDP not feeling relevant to many engineering design problems. We are aware that our tool will not solve this problem singularly; rather, it will require a multi-pronged approach. We will need to ensure that our technological innovation lends itself well to this type of process and doesn’t reinforce stereotypes that students already have about engineering (e.g. engineers don’t do “creative” work, engineers are men, engineering has a “right” answer, engineering is not human-centered).