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Fun and Learning Soft Skills – No Longer a Contradiction

Lots of programs incorporate soft skills topics in the major design project, labs or first year engineering survey courses. Other programs create a separate catch all course for these topics. While either approach meets the ABET requirements, students often find this boring and tedious because the material is delivered in a traditional manner with lectures, reading and some writing and presentation exercises. We all know these skills that a critical to their success, but many students complain that they chose engineering because they didn’t want to do these kind of things. The key to building these skills is hands on practice. The way to overcome their resistance is to make it fun.

Candice Bauer, College of Engineering Lecturer and Director of Assessment at the University of Nevada has redesigned a course called Engineering Communications required for all engineers. While the course is full of practical experiences that ensure that the students learn by doing, what makes it stand out is the use of games to make learning fun and really engage the students.

For example, the students play a game called “Who Wants to be an Ethical Engineer?”

This game focuses on the NSPE’s (National Society of Professional Engineers) code of ethics. The class is divided into two teams and each team nominates 4 team members to answer questions with a 5th team member chosen as the anchor for the final round. Each team representative answers 4 multiple choice questions but can get help through the lifelines – audience vote, fifty-fifty and phone a friend. This insures that everyone is engaged and participating even if they aren’t representing their team. Unlike the TV game show, participants don’t lose when they miss a question. Instead each team scores points with the first question worth one point, the second two points, the third four, and the fourth eight. Read Dr. Bauer’s paper at http://www.fie-conference.org/fie2005/papers/1705.pdf

Contemporary issues are the heart of Idol – styled after American Idol. Each student selects a contemporary issue and writes a paper describing the issue, the impact and their recommendations. Then each of them competes by giving a talk without visual aids. The class votes to select the winning Idol.

Law topics are the focus of a Jeopardy style game. Using a buzz in system typical of a college bowl competition, 5 teams of 4 compete to answer 25 questions. Double points are awarded for the fifth round to insure that neither team gives up because they are behind. There is a “prize” in this game: the student who wins doesn’t have to turn in the related written assignment.

The game Clue is used to teach students to design experiments. Each student gathers clues to take them through the 7 step process to design and conduct an experiment and analyze the data.

The students learn about non-verbal communications (body language) by playing charades and through videos.

Some of the other exercises aren’t games but are very hands on and effective. For example, the students learn to write manuals by writing a manual to build a product, then testing it by having another student use it to build the product. They learn about marketing by comparing the results of over the wall process and to concurrent process. A high stakes oral presentation is a team project to go into the local schools and teach students a science or engineering concept.

After a lecture related to teamwork, they learn about teams hands on by forming a Confetti factory. Each person is assigned a role and dysfunctional team behavior or challenge. After seeing how poorly the factory performs, each student reads their assignment and the class talks about what to do about the problems.

Through these experiences, the students get a lot of experience they need and can use in college and beyond.

As you might suspect, both UNR and the students recognize Dr. Bauer’s excellence in the classroom – she was a Tibbitts Award winner for helping students become the “highest vision of themselves” in 2014 and consistently is rated as a great professor by the students – but that you will have to work hard to get a good grade. While there is only one Dr. Candice Bauer, any one of these exercises could be adopted as a student assignment by other programs.

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