Prof. Karthik Ramani and his team conducted a toy design workshop as part of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program (LSAMP) at Purdue. The workshop was conducted for 7th and 8th grade students from the Murray Academy and Park Manor Elementary school, both based in Chicago. Over 90 students participated in this workshop, where Prof.Ramani introduced them to the concepts of design, sketching, and methods of brainstorming in group collaboration. The students then worked in teams of 4 to collaborate and design a toy. Students brainstormed in teams to come up with a variety of ideas for new toys, discussed the relative merits of each idea amongst themselves, and selected and developed a final design that they presented to the rest of the students. The top three ideas were recognized and commended by a panel of judges.
Prof.Ramani also introduced the students to skWiki, a collaborative sketching tool he and his team developed as part of NSF’s Cyberlearning project. Around 20 students, or 5 teams, performed the above exercise using this sketching platform on the mobile tablet interface, which formed part of a study for Prof.Ramani’s team. In our previous implementation of skWiki, we observed its potential to increase engagement and performance for engineering students. So such activity is also intended to increase middle school students’ interest and engagement in engineering design, which has become a priority in national STEM education due to the high demand from the industry but low enrollment rates in post- secondary education. Sketching collaboratively on the mobile tablet could also prime students for the computer supported learning and collaborative environment they would experience in the future academic and professional endeavors.