Transformation of design instruction in a low-resource setting

Conference Paper

Engineering schools in low-resource settings typically do not have access to makerspaces, which are common in engineering schools in the USA. Without tools or materials to build and iterate prototypes, instructors often assign paper-only design projects. Students in low-resource settings move through the first half of the design process, including understanding the problem, defining design specifications, generating solution ideas and selecting a solution. But, due to resource constraints, students "stop" the design process with a dimensioned sketch and a description of the materials needed to build the device. Through a long-term collaboration between Rice University and the University of Malawi Polytechnic, we have established a makerspace that is appropriate and sustainable in a low resource setting. The PIDS, or Polytechnic Innovation Design Studio, was established in 2016 with a grant from the Lemelson Foundation. PIDS houses electrical and mechanical prototyping tools such as Arduinos and Raspberry Pi, 3D printers, a laser cutter, a CNC machine, and various hand tools. Prototyping materials include supplies that are readily available in markets in Malawi. PIDS is open to all students across the school of engineering, faculty, recent Polytechnic graduates, and members of the Entrepreneur Hub, and it has become a true innovation hub where over 700 students have participated in hands-on workshops, class work and independent projects since its inception. In conjunction with establishing the PIDS, the required first-year drawing course was modified to include design projects scoped at a district hospital. The projects selected were a traction system for femoral fractures and a manual cast-cutting device. With the curricular modifications, all first-year students completed several steps in the engineering design process and created dimensioned drawings as well as low-fidelity prototypes of their design solutions in the PIDS. The final-year capstone design courses in mechanical and electrical engineering have also been transformed to emphasize prototyping. Final-year students with access to the PIDS completed more steps in the engineering design process, with time allocated to prototyping, testing, and iteration. In the final-year course, students now build projects such as a monitoring system for remote telecommunication sites and a neonatal respiratory rate sensor. In this paper, we discuss the impact of the PIDS and its transformation of the capstone design course. Using pictures of sketches, CAD drawings, and physical prototypes documented in student reports, the number of iterations, the quality of the final products, and the number of type of tools used to produce the final prototype are noted. Comparing before and after the opening of the PIDS, there are clear improvements in the number of department-specific tools used by student teams as well as the quality of the prototypes. In summary, this paper discusses the creation of a makerspace in a low resource setting and the impact the facility has had on the design education at the University of Malawi Polytechnic campus.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Petney, M; Ng'anjo, SG; Phiri, JC; Wettergreen, M; Saterbak, A

Published Date

  • June 23, 2018

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 2018-June /

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2153-5965

Citation Source

  • Scopus